Microsoft’s new music mixing website MyBytes offers teens a way to craft new musical creations. Using a small library of loops, teens can build songs and then share them as full MP3 downloads or ringtones.

It’s hard not to notice an agenda to the MyBytes site, which immerses teens in the concept of IPR, i.e. intellectual property rights. They hear statements from artists about how glad they are for laws which protect them from consumer piracy and plagiarism, canned video clips featuring soundbites from teens on intellectual property rights, and hypothetical stories featuring fake teens writing in the first person about the concept of intellectual property and how it has affected their lives (none of the details of their lives hold up to internet searching).

MyBytes also offers an internal economy for users, designed to demonstrate what it’s like to have somebody downloading your creation without paying. As the site explains:

if you choose to publish your song, you are putting it into the mix of user-created songs for other users to listen to, remix, or download. You set property rights for each song you create, and you can charge other users credits to remix or download your songs. All users have the choice to either pay or not pay credits for songs they take, just like in real life. You’ll get to see if other users like your tracks, and if they’re giving you credit for using your creation.

Microsoft is, for better or worse, a vendor of IPR through the technologies it imposes through Windows Vista. And just like when the dairy industry has a hand in the food pyramid, are these the people from whom teens are going to get a healthy understanding of intellectual property?

Teens are smarter than this. They know who really gets paid when it comes to most albums, and they know who’s getting paid in the name of intellectual property rights. Instead, teens might be more apt to plug into a vibrant community based around creative commons, such as they can find on SpliceMusic or ccMixter. (Jamglue‘s great as well, but it’s not a very copyright-friendly zone.)

There’s no doubt about it, copyright in 2008 is a complicated thing. It’s no longer a black and white issue of simple right and wrong. Today there are lots of permutations of what is and isn’t legal. Teens see clips from Saturday Night Life on YouTube. If NBC was not the original poster of the content that should be illegal. But, because NBC might see the YouTube posting as a way to market their content, they sometimes look the other way. So, how is a teen to know what’s legal and what’s not legal when it comes to copyright?

A new report from Microsoft finds that when parents teach a teen about copyright the teen is more likely to pay attention. The report states:

Parents play a critical role for teens. Teens report their parents are their main source of information about what they can and cannot do online. Reinforcing the critical role of parents is the fact that some of the strongest deterrents to stealing and illegally sharing content are the thoughts of potential consequences.

Doesn’t this then mean that it’s up to librarians and other educators to help teach parents about copyright – what the rules are and how to find out about them? How do librarians do that? Will a workshop for parents on copyright work? Not necessarily, getting parents to come to a session on that topic might not be a big draw. But, what about:

  • Teens creating videos on copyright, posting those videos on YouTube, letting their parents know about the project?
  • The school and public library working together to provide materials and information to parents during open house events, parent teacher conferences, etc.?
  • A podcast interview with a local attorney that is geared to parents?

If we want teens to be smart about copyright we have to make sure that the adults in their lives are also smart about copyright.

The Microsoft report contains other interesting findings related to teen downloading of content, and what teens do and don’t know about the legal issues related to downloading. Check out the report. Start a discussion with the teens in your library. Do they agree with the report findings? Do they have questions about copyright. Find out what they have to say.

The ever-enigmatic Radiohead had their own big release recently, distributing their latest album Rainbows to over a million and a half people since the album was released on 10/10.

While I can’t gauge teens’ interest in Radiohead, I can say that this release is pretty important to libraries for at least one reason: they released it themselves, they released it online, and they let fans set their own price.

Yes, no record label was involved in the process of creating this album and, unless you’re willing to shell out $80 for the discbox (CD, LP, bonus CD, and artwork), digital downloading is the only way to get it in the forseeable future.

Lots of bands and artists are moving this route, selling digital tracks through the Snocap service in order to retain control over the rights to their music. In my other blog post, Chris commented, “Maybe it is difficult to discuss music collections because the industry and the format are in flux, and we’re not sure what role the public library will play.” This is certainly one of those cases, as current interpretations of copyright law leave libraries incapable of distributing these works. Radiohead does not provide any license with the download (I downloaded it myself to check), which means they retain all the rights authorized under copyright law. This leaves libraries without authorization under section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code, which effectively wags its finger at our attempts to burn or otherwise distribute these files. We could each work out an individual license with the band, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. Nor could I imagine how this would play out in a future where thousands of artists are distributing their music solely through a decentralized digital network.

What can we as a library community do about this? Can we lobby Snocap to include rights for libraries in its agreement with musicians? Can we engage the open source community to develop a secure distribution system for MP3s (which would garner us leverage in providing digital downloads of purchased song files)?

Wikipedia has a short overview explaining CopyBot and the controversy that ensued mainly on Second Life about it. In a nutshell, the controversy came in when people were using this tool called CopyBot, which was originally created with good intentions-to use as a backup tool for saving information on your hard drive. The controversy came in when it was being used to “replicate avatar appearances without the content creator’s permission” as well as other objects.

Copyright issues are well known in libraries. As the 3D Web becomes more prevalent, how will issues such as CopyBot affect teens? Will similar tools keep being created? Copyright may be understood in completely different terms to teens growing up today.

To become more familiar with CopyBot, check out the following resources:

Use of CopyBot and Similar Tools by Cory Linden

libsecondlife (creators of CopyBot)

Posted by Kelly Czarnecki