Copyright and education: can they live happily ever after?

Copyright Education Symposium Panel with Baroness Estelle Morris – by Josie Fraser

Last week Jane and I attended the Copyright Education Symposium at the BPI offices in London . I reflected afterwards how it felt a bit like being at a wedding between copyright and education. Or at least a meeting of people who all had a stake in what the union of copyright and education should be about. Just like at a wedding there were people there who knew copyright better than they did education, some who knew education better than copyright and some who knew them best as a couple. All of them had different experiences of the happy couple in different facets of their lives. Certainly everyone there wished them well but we couldn’t help but get the feeling that they weren’t necessarily talking about the same people and there were certainly different sets of values and different visions of their future. However as Jane pointed out afterwards, it wasn’t really like a wedding because a wedding is a celebration and it seemed a bit early for that. This was actually the first time the various UK stakeholders had got together in the same room to consider how copyright and education might cohabit and there were some important tensions that needed to be addressed. At the risk of stretching the metaphor beyond its already thin-to-gossamer proportions I suggested it was a bit more like a meeting to discuss an arranged marriage. Strained analogies and differing world views aside, I think it was clear that everyone was there in good faith and it was really useful to have these conversations in an open forum – certainly better than not talking about them.

The Symposium was a collaborative effort, organised by representatives of the creative industries (largely PRS for Music and ERA) and academic experts (CREATe) along with the Intellectual Property Office. It was structured around a number of presentations from stakeholders, workshop discussions and panel discussions. One of the panels was chaired by Baroness Estelle Morris and I was very pleased to have been invited to be part of this. A full report of the day from CREATe is available here, but some of the highlights included presentations on the BBC’s Copyright Aware resource, Creative Content UK (the creative industry and ISP infringement notification initiative), Copyrightuser.org and Kantar research on the research into infringement in the UK. It was interesting to note that the Kantar research showed that use of peer to peer services seems to be relatively stable over the past 5 years.

The day focused on a number of important issues, including what works and doesn’t work in copyright education and what evidence and research exists to support approaches to copyright education. So for example, what metrics and measures are there to demonstrate that copyright education is having an impact? This is a difficult question to ask of any type of education, but it seemed for some in the room, evidence that fewer people were infringing copyright was the ultimate measure, which suggests that copyright education is designed to change individuals’ behaviour. This was one of a number of contrasts that struck us during the day, others included:

1) Research vs practice

Many of the attendees (largely from industry and government) were looking at the question of copyright education primarily from an economic perspective. What research and evidence is needed to justify investment in particular education initiatives? What evidence might sway teachers in including lessons in copyright and other types of intellectual property given that it is not going to be included in the curriculum? However those of us from within the education community felt there was a bit of a disconnect here between an evidence-based approach to teaching and the reality for most teachers who are generally more interested in sharing good practice amongst their peer groups rather than reading academic research on a subject they may already not feel confident in teaching. A suggestion which seemed to bridge this gap was to support the creation of teaching resources relating to copyright and trying to find out more about what works and what doesn’t in practice. This discussion also led me to think about what evidence might support institutional copyright officers (and others in similar positions) trying to spread the word about copyright in their goals? Better frameworks on how to approach the subject? More legitimacy in being involved in discussions about copyright education more broadly? A stronger push from the IPO and other stakeholders to talk about the wider benefits of institutions incorporating copyright education into what they do and move it away from being just about avoiding getting sued? Interesting thoughts that I look forward to sharing with the wider copyright support community.

2) Bottom up vs top down

Should the nature of copyright education be decided on a top down basis, either by industry, government or academic experts or to what extent should it reflect the concerns and demands of teachers, students and the general public? There was a lot of support for the approach Copyrightuser have taken to building their resources by crowd-sourcing the questions that people are already asking on the internet. However this didn’t fit entirely with the prevailing industry view that people’s behaviour needs to change which means constructing a clear set of messages on how to ‘get it right’. Our view is that there’s no point in developing educational resources that those in a ‘top down’ position think teachers should be using unless these actually relate to the things they and their students need to know as part of their wider education, particularly given that these won’t be in the curriculum. As we’ve already said copyright education should ideally be part of digital and information literacy.

3) Positive messaging vs negative tactics

The media industries have been very bad at this in the past but are now framing their message in a different way. However it’s impossible for them to get away from the fact that they are lecturing their customers not to ‘steal’ their products (I put this in inverted commas because copyright infringement is not the same thing as theft). People will always see through that and I think there’s a limit to how far people will respond, especially given that we’ve seen from the Kantar research that illegal downloading is flat-lining. Ultimately we shall see whether Creative Content UK makes a difference and it is valuable that there is an independent research piece attached to the initiative. However I also think there needs to be an acceptance that what constitutes a positive message very much depends on where you’re coming from. Both Jane and I have been in conversations where fair dealing exceptions were described as ‘negative’ aspects of copyright. I think that a ‘positive’ approach to copyright education should make reference to the whole system including proprietary and open practices and limitations and exceptions and frame these in a way that is ultimately empowering.

4) The fundamental purpose of copyright education

Establishing if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet was more difficult than you might think, as honest discussions require trust and empathy. I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a gulf between the vision that the creative industries have for copyright education, and those working in educational establishments. In essence the divide is over whether copyright education aims to simply be about telling young people infringement is bad vs the view it’s about the empowerment of individuals to make their own choices. Jane and I clearly take the latter view on this, but we do accept that you can’t talk to people about copyright without talking about negative consequences of people’s actions. As one copyright officer at the Symposium said, unless she talks about peer to peer infringement in her training sessions for undergraduates, no one pays attention. However as Baroness Estelle Morris said in relation to education in general, it’s important to have a tolerance for people getting things wrong sometimes. In fact making mistakes and learning from them is arguably what education is all about.

In summary…

Perhaps one of the most positive things came out of the day was that no one (like at a wedding) questioned the premise that copyright education is a good thing. However both Jane and I were left reflecting that we all (both as individuals and representatives of groups and organisations) need to ask why each of us has a vested interest in copyright education and what we want to teach people. That should naturally lead to the best way to do it. I think there were plenty of people who see it as empowering to teach people about copyright, but we still didn’t think that this is the industry’s overriding view. For them it is about right and wrong, and trying to change behaviours of people who infringe copyright.

Perhaps inevitably for something that is quite so politically charged, the day was largely fixated on finding evidence about what works as an alternative to fixating on fundamental ideological differences. However for us it felt that the most effective way of making a difference was not simply gathering evidence, but to align this with development of best practice for teachers; by finding out what they want and to ensure that all stakeholders are collaborating on this in good faith. As I said during the panel I believe institutional copyright officers and information professionals have a great deal to contribute to this as it is part of our job descriptions, to help people navigate a complex and sometimes anxiety provoking information landscape. We look forward to seeing if the IPO are interested in making note of the good work that is already taking place within educational and cultural institutions on this.

Overall we though it was a fascinating day, and the first of what we hope will be a regular meeting of vested interests, if not hearts and minds.

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