6 more stories that proof we need a better copyright for education

Roman Mager, CC0, via Unsplash

We previously shared some of the stories of the RightCopyright.eu campaign, a petition to support a better copyright for education. If you would like to know more about the campaign, please read it here.

In short, we want a law that supports high quality education around Europe. For us that means a law that embraces digital possibilities, a law that promotes collaboration and sharing, a law that gives educators the freedom to teach using the materials they need, without fear of fines.

This is not the law we have today as shown by the research Teresa Nobre did this year, in which she researched 15 everyday scenarios of teaching in 15 EU countries. It turns out, the rules are not only different everywhere but some of the most normal things to do in education today are illegal. Look for example to the question below. A teacher wants to e-mail excerpts of reading materials to a student, is it legal? Turns out, in 33% of the countries researched the answer is ‘no’.

Therefore it is not surprising that teachers get confused, make mistakes, sometimes knowingly ignore the law or get fined for doing their jobs: educating the best way they know how.

To highlight some of these experiences we asked people that signed the rightcopyright.eu petition to share. Here are a couple that made me cringe. I hope they evoke that same emotion in you, and you’ll help us get a better law by signing the petition.

Note that I have made minor alterations to the stories for spelling mistakes or clarity, never changing the meaning of the stories submitted. We also do not share the names of the people sharing the stories, ensuring their anonymity.

Unauthorised copies

“I am not an educator myself but I would like to tell my point from the opposite side: the side of the student rather than the teacher. I have experienced a plethora of situations where my teachers, educators and even my therapist have handed me exercise sheets where in big bold letters “UNAUTHORISED COPY” was written. …. by adjusting copyright, which is flawed in even more ways, one could alleviate this problem, while at the same time creating a case of precedence for other petitions on other parts of copyright. That’s why I support this.”

I chose to share this story because it highlights the absurdity of the situation, educators sharing ‘unauthorised copies’ because they feel they need to do their job, but therefore putting materials in the hands of their students that are technically illegal.

Choosing not to engage

One of the shortest stories shared is this one, when asked whether someone has felt the burden of copyright in teaching:

“No, because I don’t use videos and images publicly”

To me, this is one of the worst things. This educator could be creating the best lesson plans, the best exercises, the best collection of teaching materials and we would never get to see it because he/she knows all too well that sharing something publically would mean repercussions, either by living in fear of getting a huge fine, or actually getting it. We need to get rid of this chilling effect for educators, and make them feel comfortable sharing they way they teach.

The story also highlights that ‘public’ is important for how people interact with materials. In some EU countries showing something in the classroom is already considered public (I have to assume in the country where this petition signee comes from it is not). In some, the classroom is not public and you can show more within the bricks of the classroom. These types of differences are difficult for educators to understand and to apply in practice. We need clear, simple rules that allow educators to make use of materials.

Fines are not fictional

“Yes, I have copied material from a book that was in our library and placed it in our electronic learning environment. This however costs us a fine.”
“Our school received a €4.000 fine from a so called copyright organization. Its outrageous!”

Sometimes the response I get to our campaign, or when advocating for copyright reform in general, is that ‘it doesn’t matter if nobody gets fined or put in jail’. While I wholeheartedly disagree: it does matter even if people don’t get fined, the other part of that sentence is simply not true. Traditional places of education such as schools, as well as other places of education, do get fined for copyright infringement.

This creates — besides financial problems for schools — an enormous chilling effect in engaging in online and other modern teaching methods. If you risk getting a fine by doing something online, what sane school board would encourage that? What teacher would risk personally having to pay such a fine?

Make use of digital opportunities

“Hello, for me as university student … I have 2 jobs beside school, any other time I must spend in library because textbooks aren’t free online. Problem is that libraries have opening hours and when I have free time it is usually at night (I mean time when I am not in my job or school) [and therefore the library is closed]. Also when you search in bookshelves it takes so much longer than searching in any modern database. We have computers now, we should start acting according to that.”
“I am a computer scientist at the University [removed for anonymity] …. I am also aware of lecturers who are unable to record their lectures for students to watch at a later date, which is a common university practice, simply because they make use of third party content during their lectures.”

Students who have difficulty studying because of opening times, lectures that can’t be recorded because of small amounts of third-party content, these are things that are difficult to explain to students and educators who are used to digital environments. We need a law that embraces all digital opportunities, not something that makes providing quality education harder.

Sign the petition

I hope to have convinced you that we need a better copyright for education. The European Parliament is discussing such a law as we speak, and it does not solve the problem. Please sign the petition on RightCopyright.eu and let the policymakers know that we need something better.