Wednesday 3 December 2014

Copyright education in schools as a consumer awareness scheme: a comment

The 1709 Blog welcomes the following guest post from our friend Dr Andreas Rahmatian (University of Glasgow, School of Law) on Mike Weatherley's latest discussion paper, which this blogger welcomed in the IPKat weblog's Wednesday Whimsies this morning.  Andreas writes:
In October 2014, the former Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister, Mike Weatherley MP (right), published a Discussion Paper, ‘Copyright Education and Awareness’, which ‘aims to ensure more consumers – both young and old – are made aware of the value of IP’. This is because ‘we are all creators today’ and ‘there is a need for individuals to appreciate how copyright positively relates to value creation’ (Discussion Paper, p 8).

This Paper presents several ways to ‘address consumer confusion’ about copyright and ‘to raise awareness of IP-related issues among young people’, for example through collective information campaigns by copyright owners, the Government, the BBC and so on. Furthermore, awareness of IP rights should become part of the school curriculum, for example within the AS/A Level Media Studies curriculum. We are told that ‘it is essential to educate students on the value and application of IP and the role it may play in their future livelihoods’ (Discussion Paper, p 22). It is not essential.

First, I doubt whether teaching copyright awareness in the schools is really that necessary. A great number of pupils who leave school in Britain have little knowledge of a foreign language (essential also for appreciating properly one’s mother tongue), have a limited understanding of mathematics (essential for the logical thinking in all disciplines), and have an unimpressive command of English (e.g. ‘Pisa tests: UK stagnates as Shanghai tops league table’, BBC website, 3 December 2013 It is, however, a different issue how significant the Pisa-tests are). I then get some of these as my intellectual property law students at university. So time at school may be spent more fruitfully than on copyright protection matters. Secondly, especially among teenagers copyright is probably the best-known subject area of the law besides criminal law and family law, and certainly the only topic of commercial law a non-specialist is familiar with. Teenagers who download illegally from the Internet (and typically also know the illegality) accept the rules and therefore show a certain understanding of them. Illegal downloading is usually not the battle cry ‘property is theft’.  For example, that is not the idea of ‘copyleft’ either: ‘Proprietary software developers use copyright to take away the users’ freedom; we use copyright to guarantee their freedom. That’s why we reverse the name, changing “copyright” into “copyleft”. Copyleft is a way of using of the copyright on the program. It doesn’t mean abandoning the copyright; in fact, doing so would make copyleft impossible. The “left” in “copyleft” is not a reference to the verb ‘to leave’—only to the direction which is the inverse of “right”’ here.  "However, illegal downloading is an acceptance of someone else’s property rights (without critical questioning of their entitlement) and an attempt at obtaining an unfair advantage by circumventing the rules and trying not to be caught. "This is like an investment bank speculating against its own clients (eg US National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States, ‘The Financial Crisis Enquiry Report (Final Report)’, 25 February 2011, pp. 142-146, 189, 193, 236-237, here). So there is not much gained in telling youngsters the obvious: you should not infringe copyright. Bemoaning that ‘the younger population does not have moral or ethical concerns about the practice of online copyright infringement’ (Discussion Paper, p. 11) is beside the point.

The third issue is most important. Not all downloading from the Internet is illegal (eg Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, ss 28 et seq). And where it is, it should not always be illegal. The Discussion Paper does not mention these aspects at all. Yet, these would have to form an essential part of a school education about IP rights, if awareness of IP rights is to be in the school curriculum at all – leaving aside that the Paper really means copyright only when it speaks of ‘IP’. There seems to be no interest in enriching the school curriculum with a discussion about the history, justification and limits of copyright that a proper humanistic education would require. Instead, apparently unassailable laws should be taught as a skill on a need-to-know basis without fostering any understanding and critical engagement. According to the Discussion Paper, awareness about copyright really means appreciation of economic assets in form of copyright-protected works, the copyright typically being owned by the entertainment and software industries. School children should be indoctrinated that this is necessarily virtuous in itself and should be accepted without further discussion. Future generations should be good and passive consumers who respect these property rights of others and so cause not too much enforcement cost to the copyright owners. This purely commercial attitude that labels a composer or a music band as ‘content providers’ and musicians and listeners as ‘consumers’ is offensive. It degrades the most human of all activities, intellectual and cultural creations, to being just another form of commercial venture. We are not ‘all creators today’, we are all only forced to make money our principal aim in life today. In that we no longer stop at our cultural goods and at the education of the next generation to appreciate and create these.

Not the intellectual and cultural content is relevant, only whether that content can be provided as a commercially valuable asset through copyright. And that asset needs protection and respect, because ‘copyright positively relates to value creation’. Value creation is apparently the only creation that counts; it is not the creation of the creative person for its own sake. And indeed, for the most part the value is not created in favour of the artist, the creator, but for businesses as copyright owners. This is through copyright assignments, exclusive licences and employees’ copyright provisions (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, ss 11(2), 90). A future school curriculum is supposed to instil respect for the copyright regime to maintain that state of affairs, apparently the best of all worlds. It seems that we can do without that kind of education.
Do you agree with Andreas? Do let us know.

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