A clash over education materials from two copyright awareness organizations has thrust copyright education in the national spotlight, while giving educators and students some new resources for understanding how copyrights work.
Shortly after the Copyright Alliance Education Foundation (CAEF) launched "Think First, Copy Later," which contains education materials assembled by the film, music, and software industries, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched a curriculum of its own, called "Teaching Copyright," designed for high school educators who want to discuss copyright issues in the classroom.
"Most of these curriculums paint the copyright issue in a very singular way and talk about it as something that only benefits the industries," said Richard Esguerra, an activist for EFF, which champions the public interest in digital-rights issues. "Copyright infringement is a real issue, but there’s also a ‘know your rights’ angle and a right way to use copyrighted materials" legally.
Esguerra said technology puts even more copyrighted works in the hands of students, and students should know both the legal limitations of copyright law as well as ways to make the law work for them.
"We felt–especially because we’ve been watching new technology develop, and editing video and audio is more and more popular–that it would be a shame to keep people from using tools at their disposal to express themselves in new ways, just because the only copyright information they get is from industries who don’t want them to do any copying," he said.
An EFF press release announcing "Teaching Copyright" described it as an "unbiased" alternative to CAEF’s curriculum, "because we wanted people to recognize that there is a different viewpoint out there," Esguerra said.
In response to that press release, CAEF Chairman Patrick Ross took to his organization’s blog, writing that he welcomes EFF’s "contribution to our nation’s educational resources, even if I don’t welcome their apparent reason for doing so, namely to counter the efforts of [CAEF]."
Added Ross: "It appears we at the CAEF have a far greater confidence in the aptitude and reasoning of America’s educators than does the Electric Frontier Foundation."
Ross said CAEF supports the availability of multiple resources on copyright education, and he believes educators "will recognize [high-] quality instructional materials" and use them to their advantage. CAEF’s own program, he said, was developed with input from educators.
EFF Activism and Technology Manager Tim Jones responded to Ross’s post via EFF’s blog, saying the organization has "enormous faith in our teachers’ ability to recognize a biased curriculum when they see it, which is why we wanted to give them a balanced alternative."
Jones wrote that CAEF’s materials do not adequately cover the fair-use doctrine, which grants the right to "quote, transform, and comment on copyrighted material without the original author’s permission." According to Jones, CAEF’s materials also present only one side of peer-to-peer file sharing, instead of asking teachers and students to examine both the music industry’s viewpoint as well as the impact technology can have on the law.
"This generation of students will be rewriting copyright law before they hit retirement, just as previous generations have done," Jones wrote. "’Teaching Copyright’ was designed to encourage students not only to think about the legal frameworks they have inherited, but also to think about the law they’d like to create."
In a statement to eSchool News, CAEF Executive Director Gayle Osterberg said: "This isn’t about waging an advocacy debate in our nation’s schools. … It is simply about providing tools, information, and resources" to help students understand copyright law.
The initial feedback from educators to CAEF’s curriculum has been positive, Osterberg said, and CAEF continues to work with educators to make its classroom materials as effective as possible.
Thanks to new technologies that make it easier than ever to copy and distribute copyright-protected works, "copyright issues have never been more visible," Osterberg said, "and they are presenting unique challenges for students and teachers inside the classroom."
EFF’s Esguerra said the dispute over copyright education is itself a lesson to students, who should be encouraged to look at all sides of the issue.
"Using someone’s copyright material in a cool and legal way" can only help to stimulate creativity, collaboration, and 21st-century skills, said Esguerra.
He added: "Collaboration is another exciting piece of what technology is enabling. Copyright is involved in all these things, but we shouldn’t let copyright law hinder us from the potential that we can achieve."