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Lesson Plans from the Business Software Alliance

by David Sturtz

A Wired article last week talks about how the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others are working to “educate” schoolchildren about copyright. The American Library Association (ALA) has decided to release it’s own materials this year in an attempt to provide a more balanced perspective.

Business Software Alliance’s website, Play It Cyber Safe, features some Shockwave-based games for kids to play. (Ironically, when I went to the site a pop-up window asked if I wanted to install the latest version of Shockwave. It was a little confusing, isn’t that downloading software without paying for it? How’s a kid to know?)

I would be interested to find out if elementary-age children understand the difference between playing a flash-based game in a browser window, and playing a game installed on their system. If Jenny sends a link to Billy so he can play the game on his computer is that stealing?

It’s an extraordinarily complex (and unresolved) issue to present to kids, and the BSA’s simplification glosses over the rights people do have to use and copy intellectual property. Rather than encouraging discussion, the materials lead students to the “correct” conclusions about intellectual property rights. Throughout the lesson plans [PDF] I found no mention of the public domain, fair use, open source, or alternatives forms of copyright.

“We’re trying to educate children at a very young age about the importance of protecting copyrighted works,” said Diane Smiroldo, vice president of public affairs for the BSA. “It’s important to start talking to them at a very young age about creative works online and what you can and can’t share with your friends.”

Unfortunately, the focus is on what you can’t do, and any discussion of the rights that remain in the public’s posession is avoided. Here’s one of the highlights from the BSA’s lesson plans, where “Mom” tells “Molly”:

Copyright guarantees that the creator of intellectual property can decide how it is used. Whether you photocopy a newly published book or copy software for a friend, rather than buying an original, itís an infringement of copyright and itís illegal. But itís also unethical.

The great part is that at the end of this dialogue between Molly and her mom, Molly heads back over to her friend’s house to play the friend’s videogame, rather than saving her allowance to buy her own copy. At least it’s realistic.

Read a ten-year-old, but still great essay by John Barlow on the future of copyright.

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