Teaching kids about copyright: schools and fair use

I'm incredibly skeptical of the project of teaching kids about copyright and fair use — not because it's unimportant, because it's so dire.

But copyright was developed as an industrial doctrine to regulate the entertainment industry. If kids need to understand industrial regulation in order to do their homework or horse around with their friends, something's desperately wrong. You can't write a regulation that's complex enough to help Warner license Harry Potter to the Universal theme parks and still make it simple enough to cover children writing Harry Potter fanfic.

If it was simple enough for them, it wouldn't matter, because no one at Warners wants to write a contract for a schoolchild.

But California, in its infinite absurdity, has passed a rule requiring schools to teach copyright — thanks to intense lobbying from the film industry — and almost all the education kids get amounts to "abstinence only," as in, "Whatever you're doing, it's probably illegal, so don't bother trying." Various entities, including EFF, have developed better curricula than that, but the bottom line is, if you have to understand obscure industrial rules in order to conduct routine activities, the rules are stupid and at best you'll be helping kids get in slightly less trouble and/or feel slightly less hopeless.

Consumerist's Mary Beth Quirk has an excellent piece surveying the copyright curriculum landscape, and the people doing the heroic, nearly impossible work of providing a nuanced view of copyright to schoolkids.

Why? Because, says Jenkins, younger people might not be so into really hefty texts, think pieces, or legal documents about fair use, but they should understand where the boundaries might be between uses that they're allowed to engage in, and things that they can't do without permission.

"The younger generation, they're all subject to copyright," she explains. "They're interacting in a media-saturated culture, they're interacting with copyrighted stuff every day, all the time, and they have the tools at their fingertips to play with it and do creative things with it."

Jenkins says the response to the comic book from educators and students has been positive.

"The people who have gotten in touch with us from middle school, high school, and of course college and beyond said that they absolutely think that it's important to students, and the reason it's important to kids is because they run into it all the time," she says.

Fairly Used: Why Schools Need To Teach Kids The Whole Truth About Copyright [Mary Beth Quirk/Consumerist]