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Ask Slashdot: How Do I Explain Copyright To My Kids? 326

orgelspieler writes: My son paid for a copy of a novel on his iPad. When his school made it against the rules to bring iPads, he wanted to get the same book on his Kindle. I tried to explain that the format of his eBook was not readily convertible to the Kindle. So he tried to go on his schools online library app. He checked it out just fine, but ironically, the offline reading function only works on the now-disallowed iPads. Rather than paying Amazon $7 for a book I already own, and he has already checked out from the library, I found a bootleg PDF online. I tried to explain that he could just read that, but he freaked out. "That's illegal, Dad!" I tried to explain format shifting, and the injustice of the current copyright framework in America. Even when he did his own research, stumbling across EFF's website on fair use, he still would not believe me.

Have any of you fellow Slashdotters figured out a good way to navigate the moral, legal, and technological issues of copyright law, as it relates to the next generation of nerds? Interestingly, my boy seems OK with playing old video games on the Wayback Machine, so I don't think it's a lost cause.

Ask Slashdot: How Do I Explain Copyright To My Kids?

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  • by Motard ( 1553251 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:25PM (#55691821)

    Perhaps your son should explain copyright to you.

    • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:29PM (#55691859)

      It's easy, it's in the freakin' name: the right to make a copy.

      A fixed number of years after publishing, giving time authors to earn money for their work, we are legally allowed to make copies.

      Just because Hollywood and others corrupted the system and killed the spirit of the original law doesn't mean it vanished from the core idea of copyright.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        It's easy, it's in the freakin' name: the right to make a copy.

        This isn't about making a copy, it's more like downloading the Blu-Ray version of a movie that you have on DVD. They may seem similar, but the one is not a copy of the other.

      • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
        Yeah, the real travesty is he's giving the kid a PDF copy (worst ebook format ever). When he could easily format shift with calibre, maybe after stripping some DRM.
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        No. Copyright is the right to *control* who may make copies. It is an artificial extension of the natural right that would have existed if the creator had never published it in the first place, and a public concession to respect copyright is required in order for it to work as intended, so that theoretically, creators rely on copyright to protect their works for some finite amount of tune and the general public is enriched by the infusion of creative works, instead of publishers resorting to self censorsh
        • You forgot half the part of the idea. The authors are given that right in exchange for others not having that right but only for a limited time.

          Copyright is the right to control who may make copies for a limited time.

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )
            I'm not sure if you're subtly pointing out how I mistyped "time" as "tune", or if you thought I didn't mention it.
      • The problem here isn't copyright or fair use or public domain or the (lack of) right to make a copy. The problem is the copyright holders not holding up their end of the copyright bargain.

        They claim we're we're not literally buying their work, we're only buying a license to view their work. So we can't make copies for our friends. That's all fine and good. But if all we're buying is a license, then buying the iPad version should also entitle you to the Kindle version; and in fact all other versions.
        • by Cederic ( 9623 )

          . But if all we're buying is a license, then buying the iPad version should also entitle you to the Kindle version; and in fact all other versions.

          Welcome to the insidious stupidity of licensing. You've clearly licensed the work for the iPad and not for the Kindle. That's a separate licence.

          The problem here isn't copyright or fair use or public domain or the (lack of) right to make a copy. The problem is the copyright holders not holding up their end of the copyright bargain.

          The problem is the current copyright regime. The copyright holders are complying with the law, which is all they're expected to do.

          Change the law.

    • Format shifting is fair use no matter how hard the RIAA/MPAA tries to complain about it and interfere with it, especially on the moral principle side. The posters bigger problem seems to be that his son is unable to recognize that concept, where the letter of the law is manifestly unjust.
  • Too late (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:27PM (#55691839)

    You started too late. You should have taught him what you wanted him to know before his teachers taught him what the RIAA and MPAA wanted him to know.

    Also, you didn't format shift it, you downloaded it, and that download was not fair use.

    The good news is that I don't think you did anything illegal. Copyright infringement involves making a copy without a license to make copies, which you did not do, and could not do, since you didn't have a copy in the first place.

    Now, if you made a copy of the copy you downloaded, that might be something you could be sued for. But it isn't illegal unless you are making unlicensed copies commercially.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      If you already have a copy, and then download a copy in another form, it is CONSTRUCTIVELY a format shift. It might take a good lawyer to make that stick, of course.

      • If you already have a copy, and then download a copy in another form, it is CONSTRUCTIVELY a format shift. It might take a good lawyer to make that stick, of course.

        Life in the 100% non-constructive world is so impractical as to be almost unbearable, so we are all effectively quasi-criminals most the time, which doesn't matter until it does, and when that day comes, unfortunately, the system is rigged so that some of us can afford better justice than others.

        There, I just saved you at least ten fairy tales (

  • You need to figure out why your son is a better person and more respectful of peoples' copyrights than you are.

    Or.. as someone earlier posited: Maybe you should ask your son to explain copyrights to you.

    • Respect for copyright is like respect for kicking puppies. It makes you a morally BAD person.

  • by erice ( 13380 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:29PM (#55691851) Homepage

    It's actually pretty brief and clear:

    Article I Section 8. Clause 8 – Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution. [The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:35PM (#55691889)

      Article I Section 8. Clause 8 – Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution. [The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

      This is theft. No fucking way do you hold the copyright on that document.

    • by eddeye ( 85134 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:58PM (#55692007)

      It's actually pretty brief and clear: Article I Section 8. Clause 8 â" Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution. [The Congress shall have power] âoeTo promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.â

      Which tells you precisely nothing. The Constitution gives a very clear and concise motivational statement. Copyright is anything but. It's a highly negotiated morass of rules and exceptions and exceptions to exceptions catering to a multitude of special interests. It's the very definition of legislative bargaining.

      You won't find anything that looks like a principle or rational public policy in copyright law. Just carve out after carve out, built on the lobbying power of each interest.

      A good way to explain it to his son is Empire Strikes Back. Evil rules the universe. The good guys jump from one disaster to another, constantly on the run and getting picked apart. They can't catch a break.

    • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @12:21AM (#55693177)

      Then follow up with The Right to Read [gnu.org] by Richard Stallman for how it's evolving.

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:33PM (#55691879) Journal
    Teach them how to use a VPN
  • iPad vs Kindle (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cob666 ( 656740 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:35PM (#55691887) Homepage
    I'm still trying to figure out why your kid's school doesn't allow them to bring an iPad to school but will let them bring a Kindle...
  • A few things (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:37PM (#55691903) Journal

    First, count your blessings that you have a son who respects rules, even perhaps in this case when he really doesn't have to.

    Second, call the school and complain that it's mega-stupid that they disallow iPads when their own online library app allows you to check out books in the iPad-supported format.

    Third, although you may be able to make your own legal copy, can you get someone else's bootleg copy and call it legal? Seems to me that that was Napster's business model. Where are they now?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      These are good suggestions. As a copyright lawyer, I'd add:

      Fourth, do not, as a layperson, try to teach another layperson anything about copyright. Nobody actually understands this stuff, nobody has read a recent case in the field, and nobody can keep straight any sound legal advice from what they read on places like slashdot. Then proceed to do what you want, as nobody goes after the little fish.

    • Second, call the school and complain that it's mega-stupid that they disallow iPads when their own online library app allows you to check out books in the iPad-supported format.

      Venting to the school staff is not going to change anything. Besides, the kid is messing with his dad a little.

      Interestingly, my boy seems OK with playing old video games on the Wayback Machine...

      This is not a contradiction.

      Most kids understand the spirit of rules and that rules can have many layers to them.

      To explore this point, the dad just needs to give his kid the choice and tell him that since he doesn't want to bring the perfectly legally purchased format-shifted pdf ebook to school, he'll just have to read the entire book at home before it's covered in class. Then, the dad just needs

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:38PM (#55691911)

    So he tried to go on his schools online library app. He checked it out just fine, but ironically, the offline reading function only works on the now-disallowed iPads.

    Well, that is totally unreasonable and there might even be some legal cause of action there. That ONE kind of eBook-reader should be disallowed but not another that was previously allowed. Time to contact someone who can do things at the school, make the complaint, and such, Or pull the kid from that school and send them somewhere that doesn't have a Luddite administration.

    I tried to explain format shifting, and the injustice of the current copyright framework in America. Even when he did his own research, stumbling across EFF's website on fair use, he still would not believe me.

    Arguing that you feel the current legal framework is unfair is not the way to make someone believe you, now is it?

    Well, Technically it is a gray area. If you own the print copy of the book you can use a version that someone else scanned or converted to PDF and gave to you, and it's likely claimable fair use for you to use the extra copy for your own personal usage only ---- Any person who uploaded or shared the bootleg version probably did something illegal, but not you.

    My suggestion would be to get advice from an attorney.... then you can tell your kid "Copyright law has some complicated exceptions called fair use, and only a professional lawyer is qualified to fully advise on a defensible position for certain actions; Upon the advise from my lawyer I am legally in the clear (or not) to download and use a bootleg copy of the same book I already purchased for my own personal use, as long as I don't further redistribute, share it, or copy it.".

  • I don't buy digital media unless I can remove the DRM. Kindle files are easy, and last time I checked my Snow Leopard VM running iTunes 10.7 and Requiem still worked (for 1080P content, not 4K) - although movies on Blu-Ray tend to be cheaper than digital versions, and the physical disc serves as a backup for the ripped version I immediately generate and store on our in-house streaming server.

    How do I explain all that to my daughter? I tell her I believe that once I've bought something, it should be mine to

  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <<ge.ten.atadet> <ta> <reteps>> on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:46PM (#55691945) Journal

    This Oatmeal Comic [theoatmeal.com] might be a good place to start.

    • In the case of Game of Thrones, you can binge-watch the entire seven seasons in a month for $14.99 via HBO Now, so the Oatmeal is out of date.
  • by phayes ( 202222 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:47PM (#55691949) Homepage

    _My_ kids saw me spending weeks Ripping all my DVD's & CD's so that we could watch/listen without having to search for waylaid disks (as in why is this CD in this case & where is the disk that was supposed to be here. As I continued to buy new physical content and just backed it up to digital storage, they could see that the objective was NOT to rip-off the authors but to digitize what we purchase.

    DRM on EBooks is the main reason I either purchase content that is already non-DRM encumbered or, If I cannot find it without DRM, I purchase it in a DRM scheme that has been broken (Kindle eBooks) & convert the DRM'ed content to a non-encumbered format (EPubs with Calibre. I then delete the DRM encumbered copy.

    Apple's Fairplay not having been broken, it's DRM makes it impossible to do so, so I don't buy eBooks through Apple.

    • by ELCouz ( 1338259 )
      Why rip when downloading is faster? Media is already all tagged // properly labeled... your time is precious with your family.
      • by phayes ( 202222 )

        I was ripping CDs & DVDs loooong before Spotify etc were created and much of the content I have is still unique.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:48PM (#55691951)

    Watch this episode of The Brittas Empire [youtube.com] (which is itself illegally offered for free viewing on Youtube, incidentally - oh the irony) and your son will learn all there is to know about copyright.

  • You can't (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:58PM (#55692011)
    I have music I bought on 8 track (Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Led Zep, UFO), then bought the album (my music buying exploded about this time, an album a week), then in some cases bought the CD. I have some 3500 CDs. It's easier to download the MP3 of a CD I own than it is to dig through boxes in a closet, find the CD, and rip it myself. Have I broken copyright law? I'm sure the MAFIAA will say HELL YES!, but I'm not so sure. Where is the line? Own the CD, download the MP3? Own the LP, download the MP3? Own the 8-track, download the MP3?

    IMHO, I bought the IP already. To me I'm not breaking any laws. Those who get money from the buying of 8-tracks->LPs->cassettes->CDs think otherwise. I think they're thinking is greedy and they need to cut back on the coke and hookers they consume.

    Copyright law is about sucking as much $$$ out of people as it can, not what is right.

    We won't even get into the CDs that sounded worse than the LPs. *cough* Nektar - Remember the future, *cough* Black Sabbath - Paranoid, *cough* I can come up with dozens of other examples where they rushed out a CD that sounded like crap cuz, well, people wanted their LPs on :"A better sounding format".
  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @07:59PM (#55692015)

    Copyright's are easy to explain and understand. You don't copy stuff that you didn't produce yourself, without permission.

    Fair use laws... That's the problem here. They don't make sense to the average person.

    So... I can buy an MP3 of a song and play it in my house, in my car, privately all day long, but I cannot play it in public or use it in my business... Except if my business use is considered "fair Use". So I can play this song as a background for my Christmas light display, for the public, as long as I'm not charging admission or being paid for it. I can play the song in a church service, but I may not broadcast that song or distribute recordings of the song being played in the service without a license. I can write a review of the song, even including a small portion of the song in my review, but I may not play the entire song...

    Then there is the whole Internet bastion of sites like U-Tube where you seemingly can do anything you want with the song, including splicing in other copyrighted material (video, pictures and the like) without any permission, but only because U-Tube is paying the license fees for you, unless they don't, or you distribute your material some other way... Unless it is considered public domain in the first place because the artist has been dead long enough.

    I can understand how kids would be confused by all this...

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by swillden ( 191260 )

      Copyright's are easy to explain and understand.

      Correct use of apostrophes, now, that's tough.

    • Copyright's are easy to explain and understand. You don't copy stuff that you didn't produce yourself, without permission.

      Fair use laws... That's the problem here. They don't make sense to the average person.

      If that is how you think of copyright then you don't understand copyright at all. Fair use laws exist because the "simple" version of copyright, you have stated it, is fundamentally and obviously wrong and would never be accepted by the public. Don't just take my word for it; the fair use doctrine in the U.S. came about precisely because the Supreme Court recognized that copyright sans fair use infringed on the freedom of speech. There are many situations where it is plainly unreasonable to expect anyone to

  • ... about how his brain doesn't reason correctly. You can tell people the facts and you won't reason to the right conclusion:

    Science on reasoning [youtube.com]

    The reality is IP law is so out of control you need to sit down and get a good reason as to why it's bullshit.

    Teach him about the theft of PC games and show him most wanted 2005 and NFS world online - same game but just rebranded for corporations to take control of the files on their servers. The reality is the corporate world has been stealing everything that is

  • And I insisted on it. She was upset because a) I pull her leg a lot and b) I kept insisting for years. Around the time she learned to use the internet she came to me in a huff and said "You're a software pirate!".

    Sadly me piratin' days be over. I use legally obtained copies of all the software I have, even the games. Steam & Gog made piracy obsolete. And it's not worth the trouble to pirate Microsoft OSes.
  • by ahodgson ( 74077 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @08:17PM (#55692115)

    There are a lot nuances to this.

    You could explain that illegal is not necessarily immoral, especially in a case where you've paid for the content.

    You could encourage him to choose books from authors who don't publish with DRM, which is probably the best way for any individual to influence the market. But won't get him this book and is probably over his head.

    Or you could just put the book on his Kindle and not tell him how you did it, since it sounds like he's going to drop a dime on you if you tell him you downloaded it. Maybe download 1984 for him while you're at it.

    • You could encourage him to choose books from authors who don't publish with DRM

      In fairness, it's the publishers, not the authors, who decide on DRM. I'm sure not many new authors have enough publishers competing over their work to pick and choose.

  • by HalfFlat ( 121672 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @08:18PM (#55692127)
    The first step is to demonstrate that what is legal and what is moral are not coextensive. Once one understands that the law is at best a compromise, and its formation subject to the whims of the powerful, typically preserving, if not aggravating, the divisions in our societies, then copyright makes perfect sense.
  • "The talk" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Well son, a long time ago, here in the US, some very smart people decided to give the government the power to tell its citizens that making copies of other people's work is illegal. The intent was to make sure that ideas weren't stolen and sold under someone else's name. They called this power "copyright" and it had a time limit of fourteen years. Every time this time limit was set to expire, however, the government extended this time limit longer, and longer, and longer, and expanded what it meant more and

  • Explain to him that it is damage to information. The internet will route around said damage.

    Honestly the only time pay for copyrighted material is when the owner doesn't make it a pain in the ass process and isn't a dick about it on price.

    For example my engineering books. They want in many cases nearly $200 for the hard copy and even more for some sort of limited digital access. So I go online download a pirated PDF and buy the book. If the book sucks or is not used much in the course, I'll just ge

  • "Son, that's the deal. You wash the dishes this lunch, and I let you play Okami for the rest of the day".

    Then take the PS3 to somewhere else, where he can not access it.

    But leave the PS2 attached into the TV with a pirated Okami copy.

    When you see the kid playing, say "This is what I was talking about"

  • Tell him that very few people live up to the expectations placed upon them by the law.
  • Have a friend take it from them, saying it will cost 25 as they own the Font used for it's wrapper.

    Now explain the best you can.

  • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @09:55PM (#55692643)

    I was raised in a (professionally) political family. That meant that as a kid, I understood that it was my parents' job to write or change laws. Laws can change. Some laws are bad. Some laws used to be good, and now aren't. Most of the rules and laws we actually interact with are local. Many more people work on local laws than state or national laws. That's a good place to start.

    Next, morality. Your son has good moral instincts. Don't discourage that! Generally, you shouldn't do anything you don't want other people knowing about. If you have to keep it secret to keep being who you want to be, don't do it.

    Finally, breaking the rules. Sometimes you find you need to break a rule. You know that something is right, and you don't care what society or the law says about it. In that case, you need to be ready to accept the consequences.

    In this case, what are the consequences of violating copyright laws? What are the consequences of violating the school rules? Why are you more willing to violate a federal law than a school rule? (As a parent, I know that my child will be punished for me breaking a school rule. In that situation, I'm also happy to try to take any consequences myself.) These are good lessons on how society actually works.

    My best advice to you is that you have your strongest voice as a citizen in local government, which includes your school. Teach your child to engage in a productive way with government by example. Don't simply accept what the government is telling you to do. That's not how our system is supposed to work. The solution here is to get your school to change their rules. Start with a teacher, then the principle, then up from there.

    • And all my mod points are already gone. That is a constructive plan that takes the lesson far beyond copyright.

      I particularly like the question: why are you more willing to break a federal law than a school rule (which probably doesn't even rise to the level of a crime)?

  • First of all, let me say that your son's attitude is a very good sign. Teenagers often engage in very black-or-white thinking, with little tolerance for anything in between. The only thing that will break them out of this is real world experience. It is excellent that he cares about doing the right thing.

    Second, get some good firsthand historical accounts. Let him read for himself what leaders of rebellions were thinking when they led their rebellions. He will quickly learn that many of them were actually

  • It depends on the age of the child. The myth is for grade school. The demolition is for adolescence, and adulthood.

  • Explain it in terms of copyright "holders" and *not* copyright "owners".

  • > I found a bootleg PDF online. I tried to explain that he could just read that, but he freaked out. "That's illegal, Dad!"

    Sounds to me his indoctrination is going well. Good job! And most slashdotters agree from what I see here in the comments section, and what's worse they're mixing concepts of legality with morality. Mother of God, save us.

    Submitting to stupidity (or even worse, indoctrinating your kids and then tapping them on the back when they submit to stupidity) is everything what's wrong
  • by Wescotte ( 732385 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @12:47AM (#55693239)

    You have to talk to their in their own language [youtube.com].

  • No victim no crime.

    +

    The law is an ass
  • Here's how we explained to our 5 year old how Santa cannot bring any toy.

    Santa makes toys in his workshop. But he's only allowed to make toys that isn't under copyright. So he cannot make ... because of copyright.

  • by PMuse ( 320639 ) on Thursday December 07, 2017 @09:19AM (#55694719)

    My children are at this same age, asking similar questions.

    To 'explain copyright', first you will need to know your own goal.

    Are you trying to teach your son how to comply with the law? Or, are you trying to teach your son how to recognize when a bad law is being used to make society poorer?

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