Copyright Education and Awareness discussion paper

10 November 2014

Possibly for the first time, intellectual property (IP) education is recommended as a necessary part of the school curriculum.

People who are creative – it goes without saying that this includes young people – need to be made more aware of how copyright and other rights relate positively to the creative process.

This is the proposal of a discussion paper entitled Copyright Education and Awareness prepared by Mike Weatherley MP, the Prime Minister’s Intellectual Property Adviser, which was published in October 2014.

A good knowledge of copyright law in particular is essential if “UK plc” is to continue to grow and market its creative skills. We lead the world in many sectors such as design, fashion, video games and television. Often, the inspiration and opportunity to create starts at school.

There are widespread perceptions that many activities such as freely making use of other people’s creative properties, accessing illegal internet content or downloading music or films without payment are morally acceptable or are at least tolerable because these practices are widespread. Attitudes like this lead to disrespect of IP laws which are there to incentivise creativity as well as to protect often considerable investment.

Mike Weatherley considers that a huge number of students think nothing of illegally downloading music and should be educated to behave differently. There can be a potential loss of revenue to those who have invested heavily in the development of creative works and the risk of legal proceedings against those who infringe IP rights. More positively, it needs to be better understood that creators of original internet content, artwork and design and technology items can profit from the IP rights in such things providing they understand how these rights operate.

The discussion paper has made a number of suggestions for improving IP education. Several of them deserve close study by the education sector. The paper considers that schools and the further education sector largely ignore IP but this needs to change as pupils of all ages must be prepared for the 21st century knowledge economy.

It is proposed that government and industry support the education profession by providing tools such as online content to enable IP to be brought into the teaching of several subject areas. The move would reinforce a European initiative which will shortly be formulated as a report on IP in the curriculum. In a wider context, the paper also suggests that the BBC should create a copyright education channel and the Government should develop an IP Education Coordinator or Director General position to advise further on all IP education initiatives.

Mike Weatherley’s suggestions are by no means isolated from wider considerations and now would be a good time for the education sector to consider what kind of IP understanding pupils need to have. This will form part of a discussion of what resources schools and colleges need to have from Government, industry and the professions in order to fulfil an expected mandate to educate the next generation of artists, designers and inventors.

By Laurie Heizler

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