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Cal. bill to give students a balanced view of copyright

Changes to bill changes education requirement from "finger-wagging" at kids to "thinking critically about the issue."
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Written by ZDNet Editors, Contributors on

California students will get a reasonably balanced view of copyright law if a bill currently in the state Legislature is passed, Ars Technica reports.

The original bill, AB 307, introduced by Rep. Ed Chavez, was pretty much dictated by Hollywood lawyers. It would have withheld technology grants to school districts unless they created three-to-five year technology plans that included a section on how they planned to teach children about copyright violations and filesharing.

This bill concerned the Electronic Frontier Foundation because with no funding to develop the plans, many school districts would be inclined to use curricula written by the copyright industry, an industry that is aggressively trying to redefine what those rights are.

EFF worked with the state Senate Education Committee to raise their concerns and the result is a bill that both EFF and the RIAA can live with.

The EFF's Derek Slater explained how the bill, as first written, focused only on telling students what not to do. But a real discussion of copyright would include much more than this. Slater worried that "simply wagging a finger at students isn't going to help matters," and both Chavez and the analyst were open to suggestions on how to improve things.

The staff analyst working on the bill wrote: "Arguably, students and teachers should also be educated on other aspects of technology such as Internet safety, and appropriate attribution of Internet sources to avoid plagiarism."

The analyst suggested forming an advisory group to draft such a curriculum, rather than leaving it up to each district. The results would (hopefully) be more open, and the curriculum better designed and more nuanced than most industry productions. Chavez's office changed the bill's requirements to include "the concept, purpose, and significance of copyright" and also instructed schools to teach students how to "distinguish lawful from unlawful online downloading"—at least implying that there is such a thing as a legal download.

The bill's not perfect. It doesn't include a requirement to teach about fair use, but notes Ars: "The group's main concern is getting students to think critically about these topics, and they're hopeful that the new bill will make that easier. The RIAA, who sent a representative to the committee hearing on the bill, had no problem with the changes, either."

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