Kids and Copyright
[Updated with some new info & clarifications.]
A while back I asked Larry Lessig: kids can’t agree to contracts. So isn’t there a problem with sites where kids upload their intellectual property? They can’t agree to the license….
Finally got an answer back from Larry. Here’s my attempt at a layman’s summary:
- Kids own intellectual property (IP) they create.
- Kids can agree to license their IP.
- Kids can later “disaffirm” any license they enter into, until about one year after they become adults.
- In California, a special process can be followed to prevent future disaffirmation.
I assume this means that a site could simply later remove the content at the minor’s request, and wouldn’t be held responsible for the fact that others have likely copied that material. (An old joke says, “Taking information off the Internet is like taking pee out of a pool.”)
Andres Monroy-Hernandez (lead developer of the Scratch website) asks an interesting follow-up question: What happens to derivative works in this instance? I imagine you’d have to deal with that on a case-by case basis–and it could get complicated.
I find all this reassuring. I was worried that people posting kids’ content online might somehow be liable for doing so. But if I’m understanding things correctly, it simply means “if they ask you to take it down, take it down.” (Though on the other side of the argument, Steven Hetcher at Vanderbilt argues that contracts between minors and websites that post their content may be “unconscionable” and hence invalid.)
I got interested in kids and copyright because I’m interested in peer production of content, and the learning opportunities made possible through creating things and sharing them. But from talking with Larry, it struck me that the much bigger issue seems to be the implications that copyright law has for schools. In particular:
- Schools can’t put student work online without students’ permission, because students own copyright to their own work.
- A teacher who allows a student to place harmful content about herself online on a school website may be held to have acted negligently. School districts have an affirmative duty to take all reasonable steps to protect their students from foreseeable harm.