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Anti-piracy curriculum for elementary schools decried as ‘propaganda'

Published time: September 24, 2013 02:52
AFP Photo/Frederick Florin

AFP Photo/Frederick Florin

Content-industry giants and internet service providers are teaming up to produce multi-grade elementary school curriculum which will denounce copyright infringement.

The likes of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), AT&T, Verizon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Comcast are behind the pilot project which will be tested in California elementary schools later this year.

The curriculum, called “Be a Creator,” is not quite complete, producers say, though Wired was able to obtain the various levels of content - from kindergarten to sixth grade - which aim to communicate that copying is theft.

“This thinly disguised corporate propaganda is inaccurate and inappropriate,” said Mitch Stoltz, an intellectual property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who reviewed the material.

“It suggests, falsely, that ideas are property and that building on others’ ideas always requires permission,” Stoltz says. “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.”

The content was made by the California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition. The Center for Copyright Infringement commissioned the material. The center’s board is made up of executives from MPAA, RIAA, Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T.

Each grade’s package includes a short video and a teacher worksheet of talking points.

For example, the sixth grade version urges children to realize that copyright infringement can have worse consequences than cheating on a test, which usually results in a bad grade or suspension from school.

“In the digital world, it’s harder to see the effects of copying, even though the effects can be more serious,” the teacher worksheet says.

The material does not comment on fair use, which allows for the reuse of copyrighted works without permission. Rather, students are told that using without permission is “stealing.”

The Internet Keep Safe Coalition, a non-profit organization partnering with governments and major corporations like Facebook and Google, said that fair use is beyond the comprehension of sixth graders.

The curriculum “is developmentally consistent with what children can learn at specific ages,” the group’s president, Marsali Hancock, told Wired, adding that materials for older children will include the concept.

A video for second graders shows a child taking photos and debating whether to sell, keep, or share them.

“You’re not old enough yet to be selling your pictures online, but pretty soon you will be,” reads the teacher lesson plan. “And you’ll appreciate if the rest of us respect your work by not copying it and doing whatever we want with it.”

The groups involved in the curation of the material stressed that it was in draft form at this point, and that some wording will be changed before the pilot project begins in schools.

“We’ve got some editing to do,” said Glen Warren, vice president of the non-profit California School Library Association.

Warren alluded that the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), a content-industry group, has already had influence on the project.

Hancock said the material has not yet been approved by CCI. The group is best known for working with the government and rights holders to begin an internet monitoring program with large ISPs that punish violators with extrajudicial measures like temporary internet termination and weak connection speeds.

CCI’s executive director, Jill Lesser, has alluded to youth education programs in the past.

“Based on our research, we believe one of the most important audiences for our educational efforts is young people. As a result, we have developed a new copyright curriculum that is being piloted during this academic year in California,” she said last week in a testimony on Capitol Hill.

“The curriculum introduces concepts about creative content in innovative and age-appropriate ways. The curriculum is designed to help children understand that they can be both creators and consumers of artistic content, and that concepts of copyright protection are important in both cases,” Lesser testified.

She said that CCI’s board will likely sign off on the curriculum soon.

“We are just about to post those materials in the next week or two on our web site,” Lesser told Wired.

The first grade lesson plan puts content sharing on par with theft.

“We all love to create new things - art, music, movies, paper creations, structures, even buildings! It’s great to create - as long as we aren’t stealing other people’s work. We show respect for other artists and their work when we get permission before we use their work,” the material says. “This is an important part of copyright. Sharing can be exciting and helpful and nice. But taking something without asking is mean.”

The fifth grade lesson introduces the Creative Commons license, though it distorts the legality of copying copyrighted works.

“If a song or movie is copyrighted, you can’t copy it, download it, or use it in your own work without permission,” the fifth grade worksheet reads. “However, Creative Commons allows artists to tell users how and if their work can be used by others. For example, if a musician is okay with their music being downloaded for free - they will offer it on their website as a ‘Free download.’ An artist can also let you know how you can use their work by using a Creative Commons license.”

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