I Can Copy – right?

Some years ago I was on The Society of Authors’ Broadcasting Committee, and as we gathered round the table in Drayton Gardens, discussing fees, judging radio shows and drinking tea, the ever present subject of copyright came up. It was the Nineties and dark predictions were mooted, that repeat fees would go, that electronic publishing would make the fall of the Net Book Agreement seem like a walk in the proverbial park and no one would be able to live off their royalties any more. Since then much has come to pass, and whether or not the demise of repeat fees (which was basically being paid every time your piece was repeated – not really compatible with Youtube) is a disaster, depends on whether or not those fees were your pension plan.

A brief glance at Hargreaves’ report (which basically means a search for the word “education” establishes that almost all of the references to education are combined with the world “enforcement”, these two “e”s are to be combined to teach those pesky young people not to pirate movies. To be fair Hargreaves does state that “Emphasising enforcement as an alternative to improved digital licensing& modernised copyright law is the wrong approach.” Report Article 8.45. There is brief reference to education and research and a wholesale rejection of the “fair use” principle – and there’s the rub.

Musicians, industry experts and politicians (maybe not Cameron) seem to be delighted Hargreaves has rejected the fair use principle “Phew” they cry, that means that Google could never happen here, and we wouldn’t want that would we? Hell their tax dollars can go to – well not here. What that really means seems to be that similarly motivated companies can’t use copyrighted material in the way Google did, and many seem to think that that is better for business and it may be, but where does that leave the poor humble educator? Apparently still having to pay £300 quid for an image or even odd tenners for this that pic or track, either that or risk prosecution – Hang on a minute, just let me check the Department budget – oh look! Cuts, a pay freeze, redundancies, reductions in hours and no new equipment, but of course we can pay for images – no probs, an entirely responsible use of public money, absolute priority ….NOT.

Oh the picture - nothing to do with the piece - but the copyright is mine! All Mine - it's a hot and dangerous croc' in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Thus, in order not find ourselves on the wrong side of the law, practice in education remains constrained, combine that with ignorance and fear engendered in the beleaguered educator and the constraints are even greater. Teachers and lecturers continue to handout roughly photocopied resources, because they know that resource was made for that purpose, or they create their own resources and put limited, wordy power-points onto their VLEs for fear of copyright infringement and that’s all fine until the students lose interest because they are used to high concept websites and their teachers  are still  presenting them with resources out of the Ark, ‘cos hey, Noah must be out copyright by now!

There are licences that educators do pay to use copyrighted material – but DVD material not from transmission – who knows? If educators write books for education, there are limited, unrealistic commercial concessions for permissions for education purposes and as budgets get tighter, teachers will become experts at navigating Creative Commons. Which is good in many ways, but what of student work? Students make films, create documents that use copyrighted material but educators dare not publish it beyond the classroom, to showcase their work, because they may only have made the images and not written the music, or their magazine mock up contains pictures of celebrities they did not take, or there is even clip art that should be paid for, or there are unattributed and paid for images. Reprographics departments do not photocopy content unless educators can prove that it is attributed and have ensured they have not breached the correct amount of copying. All reasonable stuff, you may think, and no teacher is trying to breach copyright, or objects to copyright, but neither are they making any money out of their activities, they are educating. They are preparing the adults of the future for their contribution to the future, but apparently that’s not as important as making money. Ever see that documentary on adultless juvenile delinquent elephants? Picture that next time you think investing in education is a waste of money

What the Hargreaves report still seems to have missed is the idea of the loss leader. Companies such as Google may have reproduced material they would not have permission to distribute under UK law, but they have also distributed it, drawn attention to it and by doing that pointed back to the author. Some musicians, including the smaller, less well known musicians, understand that distribution is king, and having a track shared on Facebook may not bring royalties, but it does bring attention and is more likely to put bums on seats at a gig, not to mention sell a bit of merchandise. It just means that they just have to work for it and not sit at home waiting for the royalties to roll in (Miouw!! I know!)

Hargreaves does make provision for clarity on exceptions which education would benefit from, but clarity is what’s needed, teachers don’t have time to check on everything they might use, so they might as well not use it. Don’t get me wrong I am published (not just through Lulu or on my blog, I have books out there) and yes I would be upset if I found that my novel (plug) on Amazon had been made into a film and I didn’t get a penny, or that it had been published in another country, under another name, in another language, for all I know it could have been. Restrictive copyright laws may motivate educators into creativity and sharing, but they may damage the very creativity that copyright laws seek to protect. There should be copyright, but it’s not just the business of creativity that needs to be protected, it’s creativity itself.

To read more check out  Copyrightgirl at http://copyright4education.blogspot.com/

JISC http://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2011/05/ipr.aspx

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2 responses to “I Can Copy – right?

  1. A tricky issue but as an artist myself I can confirm that my work is either stolen by educators or sometimes, they ask if they can use it but often with no offer of payment. What seems to be forgotten is that people like myself make a living from such material. If educators can get me a free mortgage and food for the rest of my life, then I would be happy to give my work away for free. And yes I am frustrated by copyright because it still fails to fully protect someone like myself.

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  2. All perfectly fair, what the Report does say is that when a viable and fair charging system is implemented then the whole thing can work – but I don’t think we are there yet, not for education.

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