Captain Copyright! -- where is the love?

(Also published by p2pnet)

John Degen posted his thoughts on Captain Copyright last week.

The character is silly, dumb, over-the-top and even, dare I say, derivative (in the critical sense). And I love him. I have a Captain Copyright sticker on my laptop... and I had vowed to never put a sticker on my beautiful little computer, but this guy is too great. He is way cooler than Elmer the Safety Elephant. I hope someday he too gets his own flag.

In the past few weeks I have been thinking why I felt such negative emotions about Captain Copyright taking flight. Here is my thinking, and I'm curious to read what other people have been thinking, and why they love or hate Captain Copyright.

I think that suggesting that you can teach current copyright law and related issues to children in grades 1-8 belittles those of us who have dedicated large amounts of our lives to this area of law. It reminded me of how frustrated I was reading the Government's Section 92 report where it prioritized copyright revision issues and listed "clarifying and simplifying the Act" as the last bullet on the lowest priority for the government. I believe that this should be the first priority of the government, and an overriding policy that directs any other change to the Copyright Act.

Today's reality is that the most experienced practitioners in copyright law get this area of law wrong every day, with copyright lawyers disagreeing on how to interpret existing law. There were mistakes on the Captain Copyright site which could easily have been corrected through peer reviewers sending bug reports to the authors, but instead they became public articles. I believe people were trying to alert potential audiences of the site to the idea that if "The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency" could not get these issues right that it is unreasonable to suggest children under the age of 13 could understand and discuss them.

And clearly it is inappropriate to suggest that these young children be encouraged to write letters to the editor in support of Access Copyright's narrow views on coyright.

If Captain Copyright had a 14+ target audience, and didn't contain suggestions that children should become free labour for Access Copyright special interest lobbying, I think I would have been far more supportive. When I was in high-school I took a law course and even then I was interested in software copyright. While I don't think I could have discussed the types of issues that Access Copyright is proposing as the concepts were far too complex, I think that this is the right age to start to get children involved.

Access Copyright indicated on their site that they intend to expand to discussions about Creative Commons and other licensing system alternatives to collective licensing or the "permission culture" (Lessig's wording, not theirs). My hope is that there will be a way to simplify some of the economics behind these alternatives such that as these high-school children grow up they will be able to make informed choices about their own creativity. They can choose whether they wish to charge royalties for their work, or specific uses of their work, and whether to join a collective. They may also choose to charge the up-front development costs, allowing the marginal price (the royalty rate) to be equal to the marginal cost for creativity which is zero.

There is so much work that needs to be done before any of this is possible. I am currently in a public discussion with Christopher Moore who is a director at Access Copyright. While I believe that Mr. Moore is a smart individual (I like his reminders on Senate Reform), and that he does have the interests of fellow authors at heart, we have had a hard time discussing the problems for protecting creators' rights when collective societies such as Access Copyright extend beyond being a voluntary (repertoire-based) collective.

We are two people who have dedicated very large parts of our lives to this topic, and we are both theoretically on the same side of the debate: trying to protect the rights of creators. If the two of us can't understand each other or agree, how can it be reasonable for primary school children to do so?