Dear Sir or Madam,
It was with great interest that I perused the materials on the Music Rules website. (On a side note, it doesn't work properly with Firefox 3.0.) I agree that piracy of music is a problem, and some reform of copyright law is needed. However, I believe that your educational materials are misleading and sometimes directly contradict actions of the RIAA in the past.
In the teacher's guide, on page 4, the answer to question #2 (left column) is given:
Caitlin is not a songlifter because personal use is permitted when music fans buy their music. Caitlin can copy her music onto her hard drive and her MP3 player. Caitlin can even burn a CD with her own special mix of music she has purchased.
This however contradicts earlier cases where the RIAA has pursued music pirates for doing this exact same thing. A Washington Post article from 2007:
Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.
The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.
The teacher's guide also ignores the term, "fair use." While fair use is quite limited in U.S. law, generally being restricted to purposes of research and parody, if the RIAA wants to teach third-graders the term, "DMCA notice," why not "fair use?"
Coverage of alternative forms of copyright appears to be non-existent as well, such as the Creative Commons licenses, which allow the creator to turn over specific rights to others, such as the right to modify, or distribute. Public domain coverage is missing as well. Old recordings from before 1923 (such as Edison's early record player) on the Library of Congress site thus would be public domain, and free to download. The materials would scare kids into thinking that everything is copyrighted, and thus illegal.
The materials also should recommend sites where music can be legally downloaded for free. One example is Musopen.com, which contains recordings of public domain works, but also contemporary works where the composer has expressed willingness for his music to be shared. . Warnings should be balanced with alternatives. Also, you could recommend the students to whenever possible purchase music directly from the artist, so that the artist is paid a fair amount.
U.S. federal government training materials ignore this distinction, preferring the "all downloaded music is illegal" mantra. For example, see this training website (it's screen 27 of 48). I can disprove this by visiting this Wikipedia link, where I can download a copy of the W.W.S.S. Wind Ensemble with Dennis Smith playing Arthur Pryor's arrangement of "Blue Bells of Scotland," released under the EFF's Open Audio License (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur_Pryor_-_Blue_Bells_of_Scotland,_for_Trombone_and_Band.ogg). Similarly, recordings by U.S. military bands, being created by the U.S. government, are generally also public domain.
Copyright reform does need to be effected in the United States. The clause in the Constitution governing copyright is to "promote the progress of science and useful arts," by securing for a limited time. Today's environment, where it is for the lifetime+70 stifles creativity. Two economists wrote a paper for Harvard Business School (a subsidiary of Harvard University) discussing how weak copyright actually benefits culture (HBS article).
I hope that the educational materials can be refined, so that students get all the facts regarding music piracy, so they can properly decide whether it is legal for them to download song X. Reducing FUD on the RIAA's part will improve their standing in the technology community, and consumers will benefit by using a variety of resources to get music: legal purchases, and legal downloads of free music.