Copyright and creativity: how to teach students to make sound judgments

Lisa MooreThis week’s guest blog post is by Lisa Moore who is the Programme Manager (Digitisation and Copyright Compliance) at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). She writes about her experiences of teaching creative students about copyright issues.

I work in an arts institution and am so very lucky to be surrounded by creative and inspiring people everyday.  We are in the business of encouraging creativity, pushing the boundaries, supporting true innovation, and challenging our perceptions of the world around us.  With this in mind my role of ensuring copyright compliance at UCA may seem formidable.  However I have discovered that embracing copyright rather than shying away from it has been incredibly liberating and more than any new hairdo, a great confidence booster.   This is something I continuously try to impart to our students.

Start Positive

When amendments to the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, came into affect in 2014 there was lots to be positive about.  Librarian colleagues had fought hard to make sure the changes became a reality so I was determined I would encourage future artists, writers, designers, makers to fully utilise (and dare I say push) what had been achieved.  One of the most positive changes was the introduction of a new exception for Parody, Caricature and Pastiche, under section 30A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.  So this is where I begin my workshops with a clear positive statement on how you could potentially use other people’s in-copyright work legitimately. The wonderful thing with the Parody, Caricature and Pastiche exception is it begs to be illustrated with visuals, which our students love and the more topical, funny and even controversial the better!  I show video examples by Cassette Boy and an old favourite is a LEGO parody of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailer created by stop-motion animators Antonio and Andrea Toscano.

Pacman jaws
Pacman Jaws by Koen Mostert licensed under CC-BY-ND available at:

Still image examples like this wonderful poster entitled “Pacman Jaws” by Koen Mostert are engaging and available for use under the Creative Commons licences (this one is CC BY-ND 2.0).

Making Judgements

The examples above are useful as they demonstrate where the creators have used limited amounts from an in-copyright work, which leads to a discussion around fair dealing and the requirement to make judgements when wanting to use third party materials.  With a bit of a steer the workshop can then progress to discussing that old chestnut, inspiration vs plagiarism.  Again examples are really helpful here and inviting students to start to make judgements as to whether someone’s copyright is being infringed is something I see as valuable skills to start developing.  One example I talk about is the Fischli & Weiss vs Weiden+Kennedy (Honda ad, 2003) case.  In 2003, advertising agency Weiden+Kennedy created an advertisement to promote Honda cars, it appears to have been inspired by the 1987 film, The Way Things Go, produced by artists Peter Fischli & David Weiss.  You can read further information on this case here,

I show students both the Peter Fischli & David Weiss film and the Honda advertisement and ask them to make a judgement.  Was it inspiration or infringement?

Some History and Some Perspective

My parents and grandparents (and probably everyone’s come to that) insist on telling me “we’ve never had it better”.  I must be turning into my parents as I now remind students of how far UK Copyright law has come and how they’ve never had it better!  I don’t provide a long history lesson but its worth a comparison of how artistic work was protected (or wasn’t) with the Statue of Anne and the Copyright Engraving Act, with how it is protected now under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.  Of course they didn’t have the Internet complicating things in the 1700s but that’s a discussion for another time.

For UCA, and myself, a fundamental skill we are trying to cultivate is for students to have an awareness of copyright, embrace it, so that they can make sound judgements.  It takes time and persistence but ultimately it is something that will give students a competitive edge in their creative disciplines once they’ve left University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.