The Game Industry’s Anti-Piracy “Education”

Cnet reports on the Entertainment Software Association‘s “copyright education curriculum geared toward the kindergarten through fifth-grade set.” Game Politics, a blog run by the Entertainment Consumers Association, calls the idea “disturbing,” and further notes that “ESA president Michael Gallagher has come out strongly in favor” of the DMCA.

There’s no word yet on how successful the ESA might be in working their plans into curricula, and Cnet notes that the move isn’t unprecedented—the RIAA has a similar program, but for children no younger than third grade. One might think it wise to wait until kids are a little older to teach legal issues unclear to many adults, but the ESA is surprisingly blunt about introducing this as a moral, not legal issue. From Cnet:

“In the 15- to 24-year-old (range), reaching that demographic with morality-based messages is an impossible proposition…which is why we have really focused our efforts on elementary school children,” said Ric Hirsch, the ESA’s senior vice president of intellectual property enforcement. “At those ages, children are open to receiving messages, guidelines, rules of the road, if you will, with respect to intellectual property.”

Personally, I see a lot of value in offering early—though probably not kindergarten-level—media education. A comprehensive curriculum, however, would recognize the complexity of media use and policy, including fair use and policy controversies. Out of curiosity, I searched the ESA’s new Join the © team site to see what it had to say about fair use. It gets into slightly more detail in a PDF meant for instructors, but all it has to say in an actual lesson is brief and misleading:

Conclude this discussion by reminding students that the special rules for respecting intellectual property in school don’t apply outside the class-room. Students are allowed to copy short passages of copyrighted text, individual copyrighted images, and excerpts from other copyrighted material in their school work, as long as they credit their sources. This is called “fair use.” But no one is allowed to copy copyrighted material outside the classroom for any reason without permission.

What the ESA is doing isn’t an education curriculum but straightforward propaganda, pretty much by their own admission. I do recognize that our elementary curriculum is already embedded with various ideologies (e.g., learning about who “discovered” America), but I’m still somewhat shocked that the ESA would state outright that their goal is to change kids’ minds while they’re still most impressionable. Ideally, I believe teaching can be about giving students the tools to think for themselves, and for that reason, I’m pretty pleased that the ESA already has content online for its Join the © team campaign. I hope it doesn’t find its way into kindergarten curricula, but I think it might make useful reference materials in an undergraduate class addressing media policy and criticism.