I don't often lose sleep over copyright issues anymore. But last night I could not stop thinking about the Copyright Office's new resource for *children.* Please have a look if you haven't already: Taking the Mystery Out of Copyright. There's a text only version if you want to skip the cartoons and the music (assuming you are not 13). This bothers me on so many levels, but I'm only going to address one level here, the most obvious. My experienced, calm, collected voice is telling me to wait a few days before I write this. Ok, at least wait a few days before I publish it. Clearly, I am ignoring that voice. I should at least acknowledge that I'm probably overreacting. I no doubt will feel differently about it after I have thought about it for awhile. Maybe I'll write about it again after a few days.
That said, do children really need to know about copyright? Well, I reluctantly must admit that yes, they do. Should they need to know about copyright registration, copyright history, and the role copyright plays in protecting film, music, art and literature? Well, it's not like they need to be protected from this, like it was senseless death, war violence or something cruel and ugly. So, it is commendable that the Library of Congress offers a well-done, straightforward, and fairly neutral informational piece. What would we expect the Library to talk about, other than what it does, which is, in this case, copyright registration. A narrow slice of the copyright pie, to be sure, but again, that's one of the things the Library does that no one else does.
But on the other hand, remember what it was like to be 13? Was registering your copyrights something you were all that concerned about? Should you have been? Have things changed that much with respect to how likely it is that the metaphorical box of things you created during your 13th or 14th year of life needs protection? From what? From becoming part of the stream of creativity (my metaphors are all over the place) from which you yourself borrowed to create?
If I had one opportunity to tell kids about copyright, I suppose I would mention its role in protecting the commercial interests of creators and distributors like the film, music, art and publishing industries, but in the next breath I would appeal to their own sense of how most things we all create are not meant for commercial exploitation, but instead are meant to be shared, reused, remixed and borrowed from. I'd say, "Look inside that box of things you created last year. Let's look at where all your things came from. Let's see how borrowing and modifying and adding your own ideas works in real life, and what we all need to keep that going."
The lesson I would teach is about the fact that *YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING* if you want your own creativity to be added to and be a part of a flowing, lively stream, rather than be caught up in a little eddy that goes nowhere. Congress (something here about infinite wisdom) has created a set of rules that, without your doing anything beyond the mere act of creating (tangible things, of course), keeps everything you create in that box, locked away, maybe forever, but at least for, let's see, you're 13? Let's say you'll live to 78, your box of stuff stays locked away for the rest of your life (65 years) plus 70 more years. Yes, in 135 years your box of stuff will possibly join the stream of creativity. If the box is still around then. And somebody finds it. And they know you and only you created it, and when you died. And they know about copyrights. If that doesn't fit your idea of what you want, then YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. You have to let people know that you have something else in mind for your box of stuff. Fade to Creative Commons logo/website.
The assumption that everything needs "protection" for 1 1/3 centuries is so out of step with the reality of how we all create and most importantly, *why* we all create (overwhelming, not to make a living from our creations), and the serious consequences of being out of step with reality makes me very sad, and angry. The waste, the untapped creativity, and the criminalizing of creativity cannot be defended in my opinion. One size does not fit all. Given the enormity of the explosion of creativity enabled by the networked environment, to say nothing of creativity in the real world, the lessons we need to teach are about taking responsibility to do individually what Congress cannot seem to do for us as a nation -- create a copyright that fits our widely divergent needs, rather than one that both stifles us creatively and turns us into criminals (or potential civil litigants -- there's another interesting copyright lesson for kids) if we ignore it. We need to tag our creative works with simple statements that express how we feel about their place in the creative stream. I would recommend Creative Commons licenses for many reasons, but any statement about sharing is better than doing nothing and thereby consigning your work to copyright's centuries-long holding bin, or perhaps appropriately named, wastebasket.