In addition to learning their ABCs, some California elementary school children, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, may be getting schooled in the basics of intellectual property law. The curriculum, called "Be a Creator," uses a video and teacher talking points to argue that, without exception, it is wrong and illegal to use the works of others without permission in creating your own works.
The program, a pilot project to be tested later this year, is being developed by the Motion Picture Association, the Recording Industry Association of America and the nation's top ISPs. The material was prepared by the California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition in conjunction with the Center For Copyright Infringement, whose board members include executives from the MPAA, RIAA, Verizon, Comcast and AT&T.
The focus of the curriculum equates cheating in school by copying a friend's homework or test answers with copying in the digital world. Jill Lesser, the executive director of the Center For Copyright Infringement, the group that commissioned the curriculum, explained the rationale for introducing relatively sophisticated concepts to young schoolchildren: "Based on our research, we believe one of the most important audiences for our educational efforts is young people...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."
Unsurprisingly, "Be a Creator" has its detractors. For one, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Mitch Stoltz complains about the exclusion of the "fair use doctrine" from the materials. To put in terms the younger generation might be able to better understand, he criticizes the curriculum by explaining: "Justin Bieber got started singing other people's songs, without permission, on YouTube. If he had been subjected to this curriculum, he would have been told that what he did was 'bad, 'stealing,' and could have landed him in jail."
Though it can hardly be argued that the "Be a Creator" program has a legitimate and important mission, it remains to be seen whether or not such lessons will be lost on the 10 and under crowd.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.