The propaganda wars on copyright are reaching into some new, uncharted territory. The motion picture industry has persuaded the Boy Scouts in Los Angeles to educate its 52,000 impressionable boys about the dangers of downloading pirated movies and music from the Internet. (Hair grows on your palms, perhaps?) Scouts will be taught to identify five types of copyrighted works and three ways that copyrighted materials may be stolen, according to the Associated Press.
It sounds like a desperate attempt to vilify sharing and make inroads among the younger generation. The Motion Picture Association of America will show Scouts public service announcements and host visits to movie studios at which anti-piracy spiels will be given. Successfully re-educated Scouts will receive an activity patch showing a film reel, a music CD and the international copyright symbol, a “C” enclosed in a circle.
So here’s my question: Will Scouts also be taught about the long tradition of “fair use,” which entitles the public to excerpt and re-use copyrighted works for personal, non-commercial purposes? Will they be taught about the importance of the public domain, and how new creators need access to our cultural inheritance in order to create new works? What about exposure to the Creative Commons licenses, the voluntary, copyright-friendly system that enables people to share works legally? (Jack Valenti has even endorsed the CC licenses.)
It?s always a shame to see public-spirited organizations co-opted for private political purposes. But when it comes to the Boy Scouts, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. This is an organization, after all, that celebrates American freedoms while excluding gays (equal protection, anyone?). It even picks and chooses among the religions that are eligible for a “God and Country” medal. Unitarians don’t make the cut, presumably because they are too free-thinking. I would have thought that the Boy Scouts would not want to be seen as a vehicle for political propaganda. But then I think back to my own days as a Scout and remember the lies and half-truths that I learned in the course of earning the “Nuclear Power” merit badge. Plus “a change.”