Captain Copyright – The Beginning, the Middle, the End

Over eight months after the initiative started, it appears that the initiative has already come to an end.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Access Copyright announced on the official Captain Copyright website that “in the face of continuing opposition, the [Captain Copyright classroom] materials will not be used in the classroom.” Access Copyright explained, “Under these circumstances there is no point in our continuing to work on this project.” Slyck takes a look at the 8 month initiative that ultimately fell apart and became officially shelved.

The Beginning

Originally, the Captain Copyright educational initiative was set out to provide information to students in as early as grade one. Its main goal was to teach the importance of copyright. This, of course, is during a time when Copyright has been a growing issue of debate in a digital era when information can be instantly accessed and replicated – whether authorized or not.

The pilot project went live and had several features. These features included study kits, comic strips and coloring activities.

Like any other projects in their beginning stages, any kinks and small errors would get ironed out through the initial exposure to the public. What better way than to do it online in an environment where literally millions of people will view your material? Of course, like anyone or any organization starting something up, there was likely hope that the project would have a positive impact out in the wild and would gain a good amount of publicity.

If there was anything that Access Copyright did accomplish with this initiative, it was widespread publicity and exposure. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it turned out to be negative publicity. The ugly news is that the initiative was then labeled as propaganda by some of the critics.

Such negative reaction probably wasn’t what Access Copyright had in mind. Unfortunately, it was exactly what they got from well known people like Michael Geist and Howard Knopf as well as the most popular blog online ‘’. The core of the arguments against the initiative was that the educational materials offered were one sided and do not define things such as Fair Dealings (the Canadian version of ‘Fair Use’) or the Public Domain. Unfortunately for Access Copyright, this was merely the beginning of their problems.

The Middle

The storm of controversy quickly rose when the Canadian Library Association announced that they would step in to further condemn the initiative before the month was over. With many eyes now on the issue, many grew interested in seeing what would happen next.

Those watching were not disappointed. Words from the CLA became action when they sent an open letter to Access Copyright, condemning the initiative citing a lack of proper balance.

Three days later, Access Copyright made an official response to the feedback – both positive and negative. While under fire for allegedly trying to push a one-sided view onto the education system – ultimately students – they said that they would revise and refine the materials thanks to all the feedback and acknowledging that they were not ignoring the negative feedback as well.

While many agreed that this was a good first step, there was criticism that Access Copyright admitted that the existing materials weren’t devoid of flaws, yet they remained online. This ultimately led to the closure of the site. The only thing left online was a statement that said that Captain Copyright would make a return with revised materials made possible by a board of representatives of many different organizations. Some people wondered why they weren’t invited to help out while the CLA openly rejected the call.

While some would have rather seen the initiative disappear entirely, others remained hopeful that this initiative could be turned into something better and balanced. Unfortunately, the outcome would only be revealed through time.

The End

After a number of months of waiting, there was sudden word that the initiative had ultimately been scrapped. A notice appeared where the cartoon superhero would have been. In the notice, Access Copyright explained, “In August 2006, we took the Captain Copyright website off line so that we could revise its content in response to the criticisms the site had received. We worked extensively on revising the original lessons and we commissioned someone with expertise on the creation of educational materials to prepare new lessons on the Creative Commons, fair dealing and the public domain. We also sought the assistance of an advisory panel of educators and copyright experts with a range of perspectives on copyright, and every lesson was submitted to them for rigorous review. We then incorporated their revisions to the lessons so that they could be thoroughly teacher-tested.”

Obviously, there was some hard work put in to the revisions, but the notice continues, “Despite the significant progress we made on addressing the concerns raised about the original Captain Copyright initiative, as well as the positive feedback and requests for literally hundreds of lesson kits from teachers and librarians, we have come to the conclusion that the current climate around copyright issues will not allow a project like this one to be successful. It is difficult for organizations to reach agreement on copyright issues at this time and we know that, in the face of continuing opposition, the materials will not be used in the classroom. Under these circumstances there is no point in our continuing to work on this project.”

The notice then finished on a positive note, “We began this project because teachers told us that copyright had become too much a part of their students’ daily lives for it not to be taught in the classroom, and they told us they needed a teaching tool to help them do it. We still believe that creating such a tool is important, but we also now believe that no single organization can take the lead on such an initiative. We truly hope that there will come a time when the copyright community – including educators, librarians and copyright collectives – can work together to provide a unbiased teaching tool that provides teachers and students with a balanced view of copyright.”

So this doesn’t rule out the possibility of an educational tool that teaches students about copyright, but it does seem unlikely that Captain Copyright himself will make a return.

“They have come to the realization that copyright issues are divisive” Darryl Moore commented on the Digital Copyright Canada blog, “There is absolutely nothing in there about artists (they seem to consider collectives a reasonable substitute) or users which unfortunately shows that they still just don’t get it.”

“The Captain generated enormous criticism earlier this year when the lessons, which targeted children as young as Grade One, came to light.” Notes Michael Geist, “Access Copyright suggests that it is too difficult in the current climate to develop balanced copyright teaching materials that will be used in the classroom. For those teachers and librarians who requested “literally hundreds of learning kits”, I suggest taking a look at the Learning Commons project.”

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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