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Can Microsoft teach tots digital-age virtue?

Conflict of counterfeit interest

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

OMG IP iz kool LOLZ

Meanwhile, Microsoft is dropping bits of curriculum onto 'tweens via the social networking site MyBytes.com. Much of the material such as "testimonial videos" were supplied by Topics, although the site has been developed and is maintained by Microsoft's publicity firm, DDB.

This side of the program in particular was ripe for criticism. To be fair, its development team was tasked with challenging marching orders to make lobbying intellectual property minutia "cool" to the saggy-panted youth of America.

mybytes profile

Oh, bogus. Nobody likes a hard-liner.

The hope is for classrooms to use the site as an additional resource for the teachings. Here, tots can submit their own personal anecdotes about intellectual rights. It also includes a rudimentary music program for children to create beats — and then formulate their own "rules" about how it can be used.

But tots should read the fine print:

(By uploading material to MyBytes, the user is granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies and sublicensees permission to use the submission in connection with any Microsoft service including rights to: copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and reformat the submission; to publish the user's name in connection with the submission; and sublicense such rights to any supplier of the service.

No compensation will be paid for use of a submission.)

With the TOS in mind, just a click away are contextually humorous quotes from musicians, artists and writers who flourish under intellectual property restrictions.

"All the artist really has is the intellectual property which results from years of aesthetic struggle and dedication," wrote abstract painter Herb Jackson for the site's Viewpoints section. "If that work is to be reproduced and disseminated, it should be with the artist's control and he/she should be materially rewarded so that process can continue. It is in society's best interest to honor the intellectual wealth that artists create and sustain it."

(User license agreements notwithstanding.)

The big question

Does a program looking specifically at intellectual property rights have a place in civics education for teens?

"I'm in favor of property rights education," said Emily Berger, a fellow at the consumer rights organization, Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But I'm concerned when the education is being presented by one business, and not other organizations involved with IP rights."

That's a clear concern for many. And Microsoft is by no means subtle about their involvement. Topic's curriculum material is plastered with the Redmond copyright at the bottom of each page.

It seems a valid concern for children to learn about intellectual property rights. Without diving into the obvious, "what with the internet these days" rant, its safe to say children today are confronted with the iffy — and arguably overreaching — complexities of the law. So why does it feel like submitting to the dark side?

Why Microsoft? Isn't the strategy a bit like McDonald's pitching a school curriculum about not stealing hamburgers?

It's frustrating that we weren't able to get the story from the horse's mouth, at least. Microsoft didn't respond to multiple requests to discuss the curriculum. Does that give us a chance to scream "Eeee-vill!" accusingly?

"There are always going to be people for whom if something like this is provided by a commercial industry, they won't listen," said Nofsinger. "We have to make sure it isn't perceived as Microsoft trying to ram something down a kid's throat. But if its valuable – and its free — it can trump any ulterior motives." ®

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