Copyright Education Needed in Every School, Parliament Hears


A pair of award-winning writers decorated by the Queen have told a House of Commons debate that only education can solve the piracy problem . Assemblies on copyright should take place in every school, one suggested, while the other favors letting kids know that it's only J.K Rowling that gets Hollywood money "for writing a little story about wizards."

The idea that the copyright wars can be won through education is nothing new, but it’s a notion that’s likely to gain more traction in the coming years.

Suing the hell out of file-sharers might currently be popular with trolls, but the mainstream entertainment companies are increasingly opting to “educate” consumers via emailed warnings instead.

However, getting into the hearts and minds of young people before they become budding adult pirates is also an option, some believe.

The likes of the RIAA and MPAA have been dabbling in this area for many years and just last year it was revealed that the group behind the U.S. “six-strikes” program had developed a curriculum targeted at kids from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Yesterday ideas along the same lines were put forward by UK authors during a debate in the House of Commons. Bemoaning the state of renumeration for writers and authors in the UK, Joanne Harris MBE, the author of the Oscar-winning movie Chocolat starring Johnny Depp, said that downloading literature from the Internet was not “sticking it to the man”.

If children could understand that not everyone is as lucky or rich as J.K. Rowling, and that “real” people are behind these works, progress might be made, Harris said.

“Authors and creators should go into schools. Let children see what an author is like, let them go out into the community and talk to people, let them understand that we have children, we have mortgages; we do not simply get showered with Hollywood money because we happened to write a little story about wizards one day,” Harris said.

Award-winning poet Wendy Cope OBE was in agreement, noting that a general failure to do anything effective against illegal downloading meant that educating children about copyright is the only solution left.

“There is a need of education, because so many people are so completely ignorant of the basic fact of copyright. It seems to me it would take five minutes to explain, once a year in assembly, that there is such a thing as the law of copyright,” Cope said.

“Assemblies in every school in the country that such a thing of copyright exists – so these people who tell me I have photocopied your poem and sent it to all my friends know that they are breaking the law.”

And herein lies a problem.

While Cope undoubtedly works very hard to produce her poetry, one might think that the sharing culture facilitated by today’s social media phenomenon would be a useful ally, not a foe, when it comes to getting her noticed by young people. But Cope was born in the 1940s and clearly still views photocopying (Xeroxing) as something to be concerned about, so there’s a bit of a disconnect here.

Also, when one compares Cope’s views with those of Paulo Coelho, one of the most widely read authors in the world, who loves BitTorrent and people pirating his books, it becomes clear that the failure of an author to gain an audience won’t be overcome by talking about copyright in a classroom once a year.

Finally, Cope’s idea of informing children that illegal downloading is the same as stealing sweets or candy presumes that children can not only tell the difference between a legal and illegal copy of her poems, but also between a purchased Paulo Coehlo book and a ‘pirated’ one – and all the shades of fair-use gray in between.

Whether copyright proponents and anti-piracy outfits will care about those subtle shades once they’re allowed inside a classroom is another matter entirely – especially if they only get five minutes.

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