So how many teens in the United States do you think are familiar with the concept of fair use? How many are exposed instead solely to the message that copyright infringement is always a crime? Between warnings on DVDs, television PSAs, movie theater anti-piracy ads, and print advertising, kids are usually pretty familiar with a vague idea that copyright is that law that means you can’t copy stuff, and that in particular, any commercially produced entertainment or cultural property is sacrosanct. The message is that remix, criticism, reinterpretation, and transformation are legally transgressive. Missing from this message is both the actual aim of copyright law and the idea that there are legitimate artistic and critical reasons to use copyrighted material, and that such use is legal. The OTW believes that education about the principles of fair use and similar rights around the world are an important part of the defense and preservation of fanworks — our rights to create, share, and enjoy our work. To that end, we are developing resources for schools, teachers, and students that will allow students to learn about their rights, and how to exercise those rights.
Copyright is intended to protect the creator’s right to profit from her work for a period of time to encourage creative endeavor and the widespread sharing of knowledge. But this does not preclude the right of others to respond to the original work, either with critical commentary, parody, or, we believe, transformative works.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA) has long provided a free educational package to schools and teachers that purportedly teaches the students about copyright law. A current summary of the program from TeachersFirst.com states:
B4USurf is a free educational program for grades 3-12 that is designed to raise awareness of copyright laws and reinforce responsible behavior online. This site has safety tips, lesson plans, resources, and interactive activities for helping educators, parents and youths with cyber-ethics and cyber-safety by having fun on the web while learning to surf safely and responsibly. The information is pertinent for elementary, middle, and high school students, who communicate, work, socialize, and entertain themselves on the internet. Unlike many of the other internet safety sites, the B4USurf educational initiative is dedicated to promoting both a safe and legal digital world by addressing unlawful copyright behavior through educating and guiding students to use computer technology responsibly.
Understandably their focus is on software piracy, and they encourage students to report “[i]f you’re a victim of a software pirate, or suspect that the computer software offered for sale is an illegal copy.” But nowhere on their website, which includes the entire curriculum, do they discuss the concept of “fair use”.
We are not aware of a single curriculum or program for students that discusses copyright and trademark law from a pro-fair-use/pro-fan perspective; rather, any education children are getting regarding copyright and trademark law comes from the corporate sponsors behind the BSA. While we are happy to note that the EFF has a copyright-specific curriculum that does discuss fair use (Teaching Copyright), our intention is to focus more on creative applications and transformative works.
Within our Fair Use Curriculum project, OTW plans to create a team of educators, students, parents, and lawyers who will develop a United States copyright law curriculum for high school students (with the possibility of a curriculum for grades 6 – 8 as well). The aim of this project is to educate and inform students about the copyright and trademark issues that impact their lives, including the principles of fair use and the concept of transformative works. The resulting curriculum will be made available at no cost to educators worldwide.
In addition to the team participants listed above, we will also be seeking high school students to help beta-read and offer critical commentary on the curriculum as it is developed, and in grant-writers who would be able to assist with our grant application processes.
Estimated Time Involved and Schedule
We expect to assemble our team during October 2010 but do not expect any extensive development or writing until late in the month, so if you can’t start with the project until November, that’s fine! Lawyers, teachers, and anyone experienced with curriculum development should all expect to spend 50+ hours on this project between November and January, with additional time thereafter. No specific time commitment is required per week, but we would like to see steady progress.
Law students who are interested in working on this project for independent study credit are encouraged to contact us to coordinate; we will work with your institution to offer credit during the first semester/trimester of 2011.
Beta readers will be needed beginning in early 2011.
How to Volunteer
Please use our contact form to tell us:
- Your name
- Your email address
- Applicable experience and what you believe you can contribute to the project
All volunteers will receive an email confirming their information has been received; please give us up to a week to reply. You are welcome to send us a resume at that point if you wish.
Edited to add contact form link.