Students Don’t Get Copyright. Do You?

I often get the question from parents, “How do you talk to teens about illegal downloading?” I always respond with the question: “Do you pay for music?” It’s a slippery slope. If you’re a parent who downloads free music, it’s going to be hard to tell your teens not to do this. Maybe just not to do so much of it that you end up getting sued. Some parents I interviewed for the book worked in the software industry and were keenly aware of how piracy has hurt their own companies so they had no problem explaining the issue to their kids. Other parents admitted to illegally downloading some music themselves and compared it to making mixed tapes when they were young. We now live in a “mashed up” world where everyone is “borrowing” copyrighted material — photos for their blogs, songs for the videos, other people’s videos for their own videos.

Broadcasting & Cable reported on a survey done with a small group of college students about whether or not they understood copyright rules — they don’t. According to the article:

The study concluded that students were, “universally underinformed and misinformed about the law.” While 76% of the students said that the Fair Use doctrine allowed them to use copyrighted material, none could accurately define the doctrine. While they were generally concerned with staying on the “good side” of the law, they were “making up rules themselves” about what and how to use intellectual property. They also did not understand their own rights as creators of content. One student said that uploading network programming was fair use because she was “merely showing others in a virtual ‘water cooler’ environment what she was talking about and had found interesting.”Another student thought that putting “all rights reserved” on a copyrighted clip protected him. Most students who participated believed their videos provided a valuable service by giving the copyrighted works “free advertising.”

I can tell you from experience working in the television industry that many producers don’t understand the parameters of fair use. So how do you talk to teens about copyrighted material without having to teach an advanced law class? It’s tricky. I stumbled upon this older thread full of Palo Alto parents discussing the challenges of having this conversation. If you feel strongly that you don’t want your teens downloading illegal music or videos (or don’t want to risk getting sued), you can try Wired Safety’s guide to having this discussion. And, if you really feel like copyright law needs to change, check out Free Culture and Creative Commons. Both organizations are pushing the discussion about what people should be able to mix and mash further.

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