Photograph © Rebecca Morgan
Education, education, education
Teaching people about copyright is not only the job of teachers, argues Nicola Morgan.
Copyright is often presented as an 'us and them' issue. 'Us', the creators, appealing to 'them', the users, not to steal our work. But that’s short-sighted. We're all in this together; we all have a vested interest in supporting creativity. Copyright is not just about looking after authors, film-makers, musicians – it's about looking after literature, the film industry and music, so that those cultures can continue to be enjoyed. Young people especially need to know because among them are both the creatives, and the consumers of the future.
In that case, why does the National Curriculum for England make no mention of the teaching of copyright? Whether the Government cares or not, I firmly believe that its citizens need to care.
So, imagine my delight when, while packing up after a school visit, I listened in on a school librarian teaching about copyright. And imagine my disappointment when I heard the reasons she gave pupils for not breaking copyright laws:
You might be caught plagiarizing in an exam or coursework and you could be disqualified.
It's against the law; if you are caught, you could get a criminal record.
Once children observe that it’s perfectly possible to break copyright and not get caught, the argument loses any power.
If the 'don't steal because you might be caught' approach is all we use, it's nowhere near enough. It's morally empty and doesn't equip children to be good citizens, care about people, or become the creative workers of the future. Nor does it help them understand the whole point of copyright: that to break copyright is to steal from the creator. That there are victims.
The 'because you might get caught' approach is also likely to be ineffective because humans of all ages are bad at measuring risk, especially when the consequences are distant or patently rare. Once children observe that it’s perfectly possible to break copyright and not get caught, the argument loses any power.
Here are the arguments I believe we should use with young people:
Breaking copyright is theft – and there are victims.
If you take someone else’s work for your own use, you hurt real individuals. Most writers earn a few pence on each new book sold and we need every sale we can get in order to survive. There are several studies illustrating the difficulty of earning as an author, for example the What are Words Worth? report for ALCS. Most authors are far from rich and writing is our only job.
Even if the writer is one of the rare rich ones, stealing is just as damaging.
The publisher of a massively successful book can use the profits to support new writing, so, if you download a Harry Potter or Dan Brown book illegally, you are making it harder for new talent to be published. That new talent could be you one day.
If you wrote something and discovered that someone else was making money from it, how would you feel?
How would you feel if that happened over and over again, and you remained poor while the people stealing it grew richer?
You might want to work in the film, writing or music industries.
How will you be able to earn a living if words and images are free?
Actions have results:
If you download a film illegally, the film company may not make enough money to survive and make more films.
If you download music illegally, your favourite band may not be able to afford to carry on making music.
If you photocopy or read an illegal download of a book instead of buying or borrowing from a library, you affect an author’s book sales; if sales are low, the publisher may not commission the author’s next book. This actually happens a lot.
Copyright education is not just for teachers, however. We all need to stand up for copyright and for creativity. We need to appeal to a sense of justice. In schools, in our homes, at work and wherever we can, we need to tell people why copyright matters. And especially our young people because they are supremely open to new ideas and developing empathy and values.
So where and how can we spread the message?
In schools. The omission of copyright from the curriculum in England is a serious one, but we don’t have to give up and accept that it will have no place in schools. Teachers are perfectly placed both to demonstrate good copyright behaviour and to teach the moral arguments.
Many of us writers visit schools, too, giving us the perfect opportunity to talk about copyright there. It takes only a matter of minutes to make the point about how we earn a living, and how we don’t; and why copyright is vital.
And when they do, it works. ALCS tested this with a project called What the Dickens? Nearly 1,200 teachers took part, reaching over 30,000 pupils. The number of pupils who already knew what copyright meant was high (83%), rising to 91% after the programme. But what about the number who “strongly” agreed that copyright was important? This rose from 37% to 49%. That may not be a majority but it’s a significant rise that could make a difference to writers. And the percentage who strongly agreed that “writers should be paid for their work” rose from 42% to 59%. It’s a good start, and ALCS hopes to build on it with the launch this month of its new copyright education programme, The Young Writer’s Guide to Shakespeare.
Many of us writers visit schools, too, giving us the perfect opportunity to talk about copyright there. It takes only a matter of minutes to make the point about how we earn a living, and how we don’t; and why copyright is vital. I’ve built it into my own author talks and presentations.
In our families. Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, in the September issue of ALCS News, says she talks to her own daughter and friends about copyright, and illegal downloading:
“It’s about making them appreciate that at a very basic level, this is unfair. And that if this sort of model is allowed to continue, opportunities for artistic expression will be limited to those who can afford not to be paid for it. ... Young people have to understand that if those who create are not paid, there will be less music and fewer films and books in the future. And that the variety of creative voices we hear will be limited.”
My two daughters have grown up with such conversations too, seeing the effect on me, and gaining an understanding of the economics of being creative. One daughter is now in the film industry and the other works for a major visual arts organisation. They see how copyright matters. They respect it and have done so ever since they’ve been old enough to understand.
Through our own behaviour. Children learn by imitation. So, we have to make sure we are behaving morally, too. “I really want to see that film but we’re going to have to wait till it comes out, rather than getting a pirate copy,” sets a good example. “Oh, the author isn’t going to miss a couple of pounds if I make a copy of that e-book,” does not.
With our fellow writers. Some writers don’t believe in copyright. Cory Doctorow, for example, says the biggest threat to the income of writers is not piracy but obscurity. Doctorow is perfectly entitled to make his own work available free, but not to make others do so. We need to assert continually that copyright is also about allowing us to choose what happens to our work.
So let’s not go back to the days when only the rich could write, when art was in the gift of the court, and wealthy patrons controlled the creators and the art they produced. Our young people are the future. We need to show tomorrow’s creators why copyright matters to everyone, but most especially to them.
Nicola Morgan is a prolific and award-winning children's author and speaker, who also works to support writers at all stages of their careers. See www.nicolamorgan.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @nicolamorgan.
Copyright © Nicola Morgan 2013
Other copyright education campaigns
Society of Authors Intellectual Property Rights Campaign
Earlier this year the Society of Authors (SoA) voiced concerns that copyright and intellectual property education had been left out of the new National Curriculum for 2014. Find out more here.
Copyright education at ALCS
A key part of ALCS's remit is to educate about copyright - what it means, what it does and how it benefits creators, readers and viewers.
The ALCS website includes a selection of copyright education resources linked to the programmes we have devised. Read more about them here.