Careful, Educators…

Cross-posting a post I made at the Copyright Advisory Network.

The Copyright Alliance (not to be confused with the Library Copyright Alliance) is one of, if not *the* largest promoters of strong copyright in existence. It’s membership list mainly consists of copyright and entertainment industries. I’ll occasionally look at their cited scholarship when I feel like being depressed about the state of copyright scholarship. They’ve recently created the nonprofit Copyright Alliance Education Foundation to educate K-12 educators and students about copyright.

Unsurprisingly, I have problems with the materials found on that site. It’s not all bad, but one should be very careful before using any materials “as-is.” The materials stress the importance of permission, the vagueness of fair use, and a fear of technology. Believe it or not, I started reading the document with a sense of hope- creating copyright materials for K-12 is not easy. The organization has dedicated a lot of resources to this important subject; I had at they would acknowledge some of the purposes behind copyright law and the areas that are controversial. Sadly, it was not to be. In simplifying a complex subject (and this is even for the teachers, not only for the students), the organization has made their elements a lot less useful for educators who are actually interested in getting copyright right.

My biggest gripe is that they offer a simplistic and binary view of how copyright works, in and out of the classroom. In the guide for educators, they claim that the use of copyrighted materials requires fair use (characterized as scary, vague, uncertain) or permission. My first question: how in the world can you offer a copyright guide specifically for educators without talking about educational exemptions to copyright? We have actual exemptions specifically for educators in copyright law! Their guide specifically denies such exemptions. In the FAQ, they state that there are no special privileges for educators. That statement is completely incorrect. Sections 110(1) and 110(2) offer teachers ways to use copyrighted material that are not covered by fair use. Furthermore, their coverage of fair use could use a great deal of work. They don’t appear eager to have students attempt to use fair use, and in my opinion really minimize its importance.

As I was writing this message, Tim sent a message about EFF‘s new site:
The EFF talked about a “balanced” copyright system. The Copyright Alliance doesn’t. The EFF site walks people through the decision making process in determining whether or not a use is fair, and discusses different situations in which a use was determined to be fair. The EFF site isn’t perfect (and I’ll write to them with a couple of suggestions), but it’s a much more appropriate and realistic introduction, in my opinion.

Would that everyone could work together. The people in the copyright industries aren’t bad people. But there really are some fundamental differences in beliefs about public good and fairness in general that have made compromise difficult (and it seems to be the public side that is willing to compromise). I’ll write about this later when revisiting the government’s Section 108 report.

I believe that copyright is useful and important. I also believe that copyright exemptions are vital to creativity and innovation. Teachers, please be aware that there are problems with the Copyright Alliance’s approach. It’s very one-sided about issues that are not one-sided. I’m not saying reject it out of hand, but be careful. Not all of the true/false statements they offer can be evaluated by a true/false statement.