Copyright for children?

I have never even considered the question: why do children need to understand copyright? However, an article I read recently focuses on two aspects.  Firstly, earning a living from creative work, which is reasonable, if rather premature for most children.[1]  Secondly, and more puzzlingly, it reiterates the story that ‘copyright encourages creativity’.

As I see it, toddlers will be creative with whatever they have to hand. Older children’s creativity (when not squashed by adult input) bursts out in stories, songs, artwork, videos, gaming and play in general. The kids are alright. If copyright is there to encourage creativity, it’s doing a terrible job for the many adults who feel they ‘can’t’ do creative activities (paint, dance, cook, sew, write poetry etc. etc.). Some of the reasons are obvious and hard to get round, for example: time, finance, access. But more perniciously, many are blocked by an internal voice muttering ‘you won’t be good enough, don’t try’.

Some people do decide from scratch: ‘I’m going to be a professional ballet dancer / sculptor / actor’. Many others, though, work the other way round. They do something creative because they enjoy it, and later develop it into a career. But only at that point will copyright help protect them. (Though that message isn’t universally understood either.) Before that, people mostly need to know how not to plagiarise, and where the boundaries are between ‘imitating to learn’ and outright fraud.

And then of course, there’s LibriVox.

Where do acts of creative generosity sit within the world of ‘Copyright Knights and Plagiarism Pirates’? All LibriVox recordings are copyright-free[1] as far as that’s possible … so what’s the real world metaphor for neither copyrighting nor plagiarising? I’m going with ‘Free Radicals’. Free as in beer, free as in speech. LibriVox audiobooks are a gift! Listeners need an internet connection to stream/download files, but there are no fees beyond that. And the recordings can be used in any way.

I think this is a better approach for children to take. By all means teach common sense copyright — LibriVox can’t record Harry Potter, end of discussion. And they can’t copy out a chapter and submit it for their English homework. However, use that then as a springboard for spontaneous, free acts of creation. Focusing children on how they can ‘protect’ their work, effectively focuses them on its monetary value, rather than an experience, a process, or a gift. LibriVox is open to anyone who can read a particular language, of any age and background. And given society’s obsession with monetising whatever you can, it feels increasingly radical.


[1] Modern-day Daisy Ashfords excluded, of course.

[2] Not all countries legally allow creators to place their work into the Public Domain. And of course, both text AND recording have a legal status. It’s possible for texts to remain in copyright in some counties, which means the recording is not legal to listen to there. LibriVox abides by US law; those of us in other places have to work both with US and local law.

Related thought: Santa math by Seth Godin.

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