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Proposed Copyright Curriculum Leaves Educators, Activists Conflicted

As a coalition of media and internet interests develops an educational program for teaching schoolchildren about intellectual property rights, education groups and tech activists are raising concerns about teacher workloads and possible bias in the curriculum.

As a coalition of media and internet interests develops an educational program for teaching schoolchildren about intellectual property rights, education groups and tech activists are raising concerns about teacher workloads and possible bias in the curriculum.

Copyright law could be coming soon to a classroom near you.

That’s what a number of tech and media industry groups are hoping to accomplish with a copyright-focused education program for young students. But the still-in-the-works curriculum, focused so far on students in California, is already drawing criticism from educators and internet rights groups. More details below:

About the program: The Center for Copyright Information (CCI)—a nonprofit that represents a coalition of interests, including the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and several major internet providers, among others—is working on school curriculum designed to teach first- through sixth-graders about copyright and piracy issues, according to the Los Angeles Times. The center hopes to introduce the materials as a pilot program in California, with the eventual goal of launching a national program. Other groups, including the California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), are helping CCI develop the program. “It’s important to prepare children to succeed and thrive and learn how to share and create and move files in a way that’s ethical and responsible,” iKeepSafe President Marsali Hancock told the Times.

Asking too much? While educator groups are open to discussing these issues with students, at least one notes that adding copyright education to the current curriculum might not go over so well with teachers. “While it’s certainly a worthy topic of discussion with students, I’m sure some teachers would have a concern that adding anything of any real length to an already packed school day would take away from the basic curriculum that they’re trying to get through now,” Frank Wells of the California Teachers Association told the Times.

Questions of bias: Technology activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have expressed concerns that the CCI curriculum is biased—a draft of the program was first uncovered by WIRED in September—and doesn’t give a full picture of copyright. EFF notes, for example, that it fails to explain the legal principle of fair use. “It suggests, falsely, that ideas are property and that building on others’ ideas always requires permission,” Mitch Stoltz, an intellectual property attorney with EFF, told WIRED. “The overriding message of this curriculum is that students’ time should be consumed not in creating but in worrying about their impact on corporate profits.”

Although CCI and iKeepSafe say the program is still in development and the final version will cover all sides of the copyright issue, they may struggle to sell it to the public at large. The Times, in an editorial this week, suggested that the program’s focus is too narrow and its subject matter too complex for the elementary school classroom.

“Copyright law, inevitably, will have to take a back seat to reading, writing and math,” the editorial board wrote.

(Bananastock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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