It's back to school time, and our friends over at the RIAA have a blog post up excitedly talking up its special "curriculum" for teachers
. But, of course, that "curriculum" is laughably biased and at times outright wrong. And it makes me wonder: why would any educational institution accept a one-sided curriculum written by the industry that's clearly designed to promote that industry's own business? Do schools use science curricula provided by Exxon or Monsanto? As for the actual content included in the curriculum (which, by the way, the RIAA links to incorrectly twice), it's almost a joke. Check out the RIAA propaganda
. Fair use doesn't exist -- at all. Reading through the main document, I find not a single mention of it. But what does exist is all sorts of bogeymen about how evil file sharing is, how it exposes your hard drive to viruses and reveals your tax return info.
Oh, but the best part, is that the RIAA is pushing for a new totally made up term called "songlifting" which is the central theme of every single lesson
. Sounds like "shoplifting," right? That's the idea -- though the RIAA cleverly tries to pretend that it didn't make up the word. In fact, it presents it as if it's a common term. Of course, the curriculum doesn't happen to mention the Supreme Court's Dowling decision, where the court specifically talked about how very different infringement is from "stealing." Of course, the RIAA also mentions the Grokster ruling -- but is misleading there as well, claiming that the law is clear that parents could be found liable for their kids sharing unauthorized files.
The actual exercises are ridiculous propaganda. The first one is supposed to be about "math" skills for the lower grades and "spreadsheet" skills for higher level students. Guess what the "math" is?
This part of the activity should help students
recognize how songlifting, though it might seem
harmless at first, can quickly become a largescale
problem. Have students complete the calculations
on the worksheet using
spreadsheet software or a calculator.
If time permits, repeat the
first calculation by having students
choose a realistic number
of songs they would take if they
could get them all for free. Adding
desire to the equation in this way
can further dramatize why
songlifting can have an enormous
Total number of songs lifted
of songs lifted =
$926,640,000 (i.e., nearly
a billion dollars).
Hmm. If we're simply making stuff up for propaganda purposes, how about "total number of new listeners a musician gets thanks to such sharing?" And then "total amount those musicians make when those new fans go to concerts or purchase merchandise thanks to hearing the songs for free." Might change the math a bit, but what do I know? I'm not an industry lobbyist, so my "industry" math isn't up to par.
Then there's propaganda about job losses:
Ask students to
name some people who might work in this
part of the music business (e.g., machine
operator, printer, packager, truck driver, store
manager, cashier, online order handler, etc.). Talk
about how these people might be affected by
songlifting, then have students work individually
or in small groups to list other music makers
unnamed in the story.
Ok. Why don't we talk about the jobs on the other side of the equation? How about all of the people employed by technology companies that the RIAA has helped put out of business through lawsuits? Or students that the RIAA has bankrupted via lawsuits? Have students put together a list of just how many lives and jobs the RIAA has destroyed. Point them to the story of MP3.com. And Napster. And Launchcast. And Grokster. Tell them how the RIAA tried to have the iPod (or, more accurately, its predecessor) banned, and have them think about how different life would be without it. Tell them how the RIAA is fighting hard to tax radio stations, putting so many radio people out of business. Tell them the story of the MIT student who the RIAA suggested drop out of school
to pay a fine. Talk about how all of these people might be affected by the RIAA's overreaction to innovation and new technologies, and its own inability to embrace new business models. Then have students work individually or in small groups to list other tech companies making lives better that the RIAA has threatened, sued or put out of business.
Highlight the variety of career opportunities
available in the music industry by having
students research one behind-the-scenes
music maker and write a brief description of
Highlight the variety of career opportunities available in the tech industry thanks to new innovations that the RIAA has tried to kill. Then highlight the career opportunities in the music industry itself that have finally opened up now that the major labels are scrambling to learn technology.
Next, draw the copyright symbol (©) on the
chalkboard. Ask if students know what this
symbol means and where they might have seen
it (books, posters, CDs, etc.). Explain that the
copyright symbol is used to identify the owner
of a piece of intellectual property and serves
as a reminder that it is illegal for anyone to
copy or distribute that property without the
Next, explain fair use, and how the above statement claiming that it's illegal for anyone to copy or distribute without the owner's permission is not necessarily true at all. Oh wait... that sentence isn't in there.
You might also
inform them that our nation's Founders included
copyright protection in the U.S. Constitution
(Article I, Section 8), believing that it would
encourage creativity by giving the creators of
intellectual property an exclusive right to profit
from their artistic talents.
You might also inform them that those Founders were highly cautious
about this issue, and had stated their worries that these monopolies would do more harm than good, and that they should be greatly limited and monitored to avoid such harm. You might also want to point out that the RIAA seems to have forgotten the "limited time" part of this, but I guess you can be forgiven, since they (and their friends in the movie industry) have pretty much convinced Congress to ignore that part.
Then there's this fun list of "brainstorming ideas" with some responses/corrections/clarifications after each one:
- Songlifters take millions of dollars of
music each year.
Actually, file sharers don't "take" any money. This is a flat out lie.
- Songlifters hurt all kinds of music
makers, not just the stars.
Those who have embraced file sharing in combination with smart business models have found it works for all kinds of music makers, not just the stars.
- Songlifters keep new artists from getting
their chance at stardom.
Many up-and-coming artists are finding that giving away their music is a large part of how they build their fanbase and become stars.
- Songlifters are breaking the law.
In many cases, those who share unauthorized files may have violated copyright law, though it's a civil issue, not a criminal one.
- Songlifters can get other people in
trouble by sharing illegal music.
Because the RIAA isn't very good with data, it's been known to sue the wrong people
- Songlifters can get computer viruses
when they illegally download online.
Doing things online when not careful can result in getting viruses. That has nothing to do with file sharing. Careful users can avoid viruses.
- Songlifters don't respect other people's
The RIAA doesn't respect fair use rights, the need for a lively and dynamic public domain or the right of technology companies to innovate.
The whole thing is pretty ridiculous frankly. It doesn't even make a half-hearted attempt at talking about the rights of everyone else or the actual purpose of copyright law. The whole thing is basically about brainwashing kids into accepting that the record labels' old business model must stay in place forever. Luckily, most kids are smarter than that and can see through such propaganda pretty quickly. However, if schools really are interested in educating kids about copyright, why not use a non-industry
curriculum, like the one put together
by the EFF, called Teaching Copyright