UK IP Chief Wants Schools to Teach Copyright Ethics and Morals

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The UK's top IP advisor has published recommendations on how today's youth should learn to respect copyright. The document envisions a mandatory copyright curriculum for all ages, online awareness campaigns, and a copyright education program run by the BBC.

uk-flagMike Weatherley, a Conservative MP and Intellectual Property Adviser to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, has pushed various copyright related topics onto the political agenda over the past year.

Previously Weatherley suggested that ISPs should be held responsible for pirating users, that search engines should blacklist pirate sites and that persistent file-sharers should be thrown in jail.

Ideally, however, UK citizens shouldn’t be sharing or downloading content without permission to begin with. This is an issue the IP-advisor hopes to resolve with his latest set of recommendations, which center around copyright education and awareness.

In a 51-page report (pdf) that was just released Weatherley stresses the importance of copyright awareness and education, especially for the younger generation. This is needed as respect for copyright has declined in recent years and some even believe that sharing copyrighted material without permission is not a big deal.

“There is … a certain level of tolerance for the idea that IP infringements could be considered legitimate. Some believe that illegal activity online is a social norm, with no moral implications,” Weatherley writes.

“We are at risk of an entire generation growing up with different levels of respect for IP and copyright in particular. Should this social contract disappear, there could be longer-term consequences beyond the immediate, short-term negative impacts experienced by the creative sector,” he adds.

In his report the IP-advisor makes several recommendations for how this trend can be countered. Through a broad set of education measures he hopes that copyright will regain respect from the public.

“Education and consumer awareness programmes that seek to change current behaviour or influence future actions are essential for nurturing a greater culture of respect and value for the UK’s creative economy, and to negate the impact of infringement.”

The report mentions that several of the education efforts have already been set in motion. This includes PIPCU’s warning banners on pirate sites as well as the upcoming scheme to warn alleged copyright infringers through their ISP.

One of the future goals is to bring copyright into the classroom. To achieve this Weatherley recommends to add copyright education to the school curriculum, starting with the youngest kids in primary school.

“The school curriculum needs to prepare pupils – from early years through to the end of secondary school and higher education – for the 21st century knowledge economy. Interaction with IP is a daily occurrence for many young people, and yet it is widely ignored within the education system,” the report reads.

As a secondary form of public education, the BBC should also start broadcasting programming that stresses the value of copyright through various channels. This to ensure that the message reaches a wide audience.

“Given its reach and public service broadcasting remit, the BBC should create a copyright education programme using online, on-air and face-to-face channels,” Weatherley recommends.

With these initiatives and other changes, the IP advisor hopes to change people’s attitudes towards copyright. This should then lead to less online piracy in the long run which may reflect positively on the economy.

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t mention who should be involved in creating the educational messages, should they be implemented. The only stakeholders that have been consulted recently are the major copyright holder groups, which may lead to a biased perspective.

To avoid an unbalanced curriculum as we’ve seen in the United States, it may be wise to also involve representatives from the consumer side, library organisations, or alternatives to strict copyright licensing such as Creative Commons.

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