Captain Copyright R.I.P.

Canadian copyright superhero no match for evil file-sharing pirates as Access Copyright makes him hang up his cape and tights for good.

The brainchild of the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency, Captain Copyright was supposed to educate schoolchildren about copyright law and the ills of illegal file-sharing but, instead it was merely use as visual effigy of all that is wrong with intellectual property rights enforcement.

In theory, Captain Copyright was supposed to be a handy tool for teachers and parents to promote the doctrines of “Access Copyright,” that stealing copyrighted works is wrong and illegal. The reasoning appeared to be that the younger children could be reached with these messages, the better, and lessons and other materials were created for children as young as five years old.

To some however, Access Copyright wasn’t always honest about the material they taught, and some criticized that crucial facts and interpretations of current copyright laws were being omitted. To others, the group’s targeting of young children with a friendly comic book hero smacked of outright brainwashing.

As Dr. Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, first noted:

Captain Copyright, is a new “superhero” that educates children about the virtues of copyright, rushing to the scene in the event that someone publishes research without proper credit. While my first reaction to the site was that it is just silly, as I dug deeper, I now find it shameful. These materials, targeting kids as young as six years old, misrepresents many issues and proposes classroom activities that are offensive.

In response to all of the criticisms, Suzanne Dugard, the manager of communications at Access Copyright defended the “Captain, ” saying that “Teachers told us they needed tools to help them teach about this, ” adding that Access Copyright had help in planning the lessons through focus groups with teachers.

Dugard also mentioned that while they won’t be able to please everyone, Access Canada is “carefully reviewing all of the feedback” the character has been receiving from around the world, and that they won’t hesitate to make any improvements that can be made to the character or his website.

Well, 8 months later low and behold, Captain Copyright is no more. After months of trying to address the concerns of teachers and parents alike, it was concluded that “…the current climate around copyright issues will not allow a project like this one to be successful.” This means that basically parents didn’t like the idea of young kids role-playing copyright scenarios inset ad of doing something really important like learning how to read and write.

From the Captain Copyright site:

In August 2006, we took the Captain Copyright website offline 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.
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.
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.

It still smacks of a no-brainer that this program would ultimately be a failure. Who in their right mind would respond positively to a corporate interest group setting up shop in their kids classroom and telling them what they think the world should be like? Maybe the so-called “superhero” was actually the villain in this case.