Skip to main content

The Center for Copyright Information has launched its Copyright Alert System, an educational campaign aimed at reinforcing copyright laws through a “six-strike” process, including multiple warnings before punitive measures kick in. One of the main targets of the initiative: parents who may not be aware of their copyright-infringing teens. However, as the father of a teen-ager, I have come to realize that kids “get” copyright.

Though they might not connect the dots when it comes to illegally downloading movies and music, they understand it very well when they are on the receiving end and social media is the culprit. Take, for example, the fiasco with Instagram late last year, when the company announced its new terms and conditions. This didn’t come to my attention from 24-hour news or tweets from the copyright experts I follow, but from my 14-year-old daughter. She is a heavy Instagram user, regularly calculating her ratio of following to followers and touting her most liked pictures.  “Did you hear, Dad? Instagram is trying to rip us off!” 

“Really,” I responded while flipping through the mail. 

“Yeah, they are changing their terms so they can sell our photos to whoever they want.”  Now she has my attention, because I recognize that this is about copyright. 

It turned into a familiar social-media story. The terms and conditions of Instagram, like those of Facebook and other social-media sites before it, were written in such a way that led users to believe that the service could sell their photos without consent, therefore infringing on their intellectual property.  Using Instagram's and parent company Facebook’s service, the masses initiated an online campaign that swept up my daughter among thousands of others.  They created Twitter hashtags like #instafraud, #instascam, #deleteaccount, #leavinginstagram, #byeinstagram and #f*ckyouinstagram, to rally others to their cause.

This revolution against Instragram and other social-media sites is great news for Hollywood, because, it shows that kids actually understand copyright.  They intuitively knew that the photo they took of their dog, the sunset, or their friend -- the next superstar -- was theirs.  They owned it and no one had the right to take it or profit from it without their permission.

So, I asked my daughter, “What’s the big deal if Instagram sells your photo? You still have it.”  I got that teenage look somewhere between outrage and disbelief.

“It’s my photo, they can’t just take my photo.”

“But Annie,” I calmly explained, “they are not ‘taking it,’ they are ‘copying it’. That’s not stealing, that’s sharing.”  Now I’ve done it: I’ve created unbridled teenage outrage. The eyes roll, the head shrugs as she went back to her room. I said, “But honey, it’s sharing, and sharing is ‘fun’!”  Her response was a slammed door.  

The anti-copyright lobby uses rhetoric to try to undermine copyright law and belittle its defenders. They have millions of uneducated ‘followers’ that wrap themselves in these bogus arguments to deflect any guilt they might feel from stealing music and movies. For example, the anti-copyright lobby loves to infer that because the late Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, predicted that the Betamax would be the downfall of the movie industry, that the movie industry is also being alarmist about file-sharing websites. To them, this is proof that Hollywood is a bunch of dinosaurs who cannot create a modern business model that competes with file sharing websites. Never mind that studios need a return on hundreds of millions of dollars invested in production and marketing, while the file-sharing sites need only pay for cloud storage on a server in Eastern Europe.  

However, the anti-copyright lobby has a problem that is illustrated by social-media controversy. Anyone who engages in the creative process, spending hours, days, or years creating something, knows instinctively that they own their work. They do not want anyone copying it, retransmitting it, or performing it in public without their permission. The Copyright Alert System will help to reinforce the importance of copyright. Maybe Hollywood is starting to defend their works as vigorously and shamelessly as the millions of social media users.