Steven's Notebook

Look Ma - No Hands!

Who Teaches Copyright?

Just this past week I was reading an article in Create magazine about licensing music. It was a reminder of copyrights and the various licenses that you might need to purchase to use someone’s work… Performance Rights, Synchronization, and the like.

Later that evening I was in my normal spot for a Friday night, on the sidelines in a high school stadium. Before the game there was music playing on the loudspeakers, then there were dance and step teams performing to popular tunes. As I watched, waiting for the bands to perform, I thought about the common knowledge that “kids these days don’t observe copyright, and don’t care that what they’re doing is stealing” when they download or trade MP3s.

Here were kids, in a school setting, under the supervision and sponsorship of teachers or other adults, using music almost assuredly without proper licensing. How, I wonder, can they possibly even know what the limits of the law are when they’re not taught?

Parry Aftab, executive director of was quoted in the New York Times as saying that “a lot of parents are totally clueless about [copyright and music licensing]. They don’t understand the laws and they don’t understand the technology.” (Heck, most of what I read in online forums is at least partly wrong, even in “creative” forums where there are people who should know better.) The truth of the matter is that most people in the schools don’t understand either.

Most parents can’t teach copyright law, its limits and its applications. Schools can’t — or don’t — teach it. Yet somehow “the kids” are just supposed to know better. That’s just not going to happen.

I’ve often thought that I should put together a one-hour overview of copyright basics and offer to come teach it at the high school, perhaps in Literature class. Maybe it’s time to get that going.

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