You know the old saying “ignorance is bliss?” If blissful psuedo-innocence is your saving grace then don’t read this blog. ‘Cause after the paragraph break, thinks get real bleak, real fast.
Does twenty-three billion dollars sound like a lot of money to you? Do you think that the government gets their cabooses in action when there’s big bucks and big corporations’ interest at stake? Have you ever copy and pasted a photo off of the internet without written permission from the owner? If so, you best be worried when you hear that distant police siren tonight. The FBI are on to you.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Fraud Division, while primarily focused on monitoring internet activities of terrorists and child pornography offenders, has recently taken it upon themselves to create a internet property copyright infringment team. This includes thefts of photos, games, music and other digital media that is so, so easily snatched without the least bit of guilt. The same people who regularly download music on a peer-to-peer file sharing sites, would never ponder the idea of knicking even the smallest item from a retail store. Somehow, when the item isn’t tangible, it doesn’t feel like a crime. Yet, alas, little stickyfingers, it is. To the tune of $250,000 dollars a pop to be exact. Just because you’re all alone in your white-walled apartment when you steal that photo doesn’t mean that no one took notice. Big Brother is always watching. Along with the new task force over at Big Brother Central the FBI, they have set up a hotline and website where mean people with nothing to do can report those individuals who they believe have infringed upon someone else’s copyright via the internet.
Now, to the rescue (sort of) is the term “Copyfraud.” As defined by Jason Mazzone, copyfraud is the use of false claims of copyright to attempt to control works not under one’s legal control. Mazzone asserts that many times an item in question does not have copyright and is instead public domain. He also says that copyfraud is usually sucessful in court because the US has only a few vague laws governing digital media. For example, Michael Crook (interestingly his real name) filed claims against websites that posted photos and video clips of him beside scathing articles. He lost the battle, apologized to the defendants, and promised to limit his future copyright claims to material that he actually owned.
Is all this a little confusing to you? Then you’re not alone. That’s what makes this issue all the scarier. When your students bring in a prezi with photos that they obviously didn’t take themselves, and you turn a blind eye, are you then an accomplice to a federal crime?
Maybe the best thing to do is this: inform yourself and your students about copyrights. Copyrightkids.org uses simple language and explains things in a way that, well, a kid could understand. They even include a twenty-five question quiz. If you get pass the quiz, you will get a printable certificate (I’d print my own, but I’m terrified of prison food) stating that you have completed the copyright challenge. This quiz could be a very valuable classroom tool for making sure you have educated your students on copyright laws before the both of you are behind cold, unloving bars.