CMU Trends Education & Events Legal

Trends: How could we better communicate copyright?

By | Published on Wednesday 15 October 2014


Whenever the music industry secures support from law-makers for new anti-piracy rules and regulations, somewhere in any accompanying statement, and sometimes in the resulting legislation, there will be commitments about copyright education.

The logic goes: if we are going to instigate sanctions against people who access or share unlicensed content, then we should explain to them first what copyright is, why it exists, and how it works. It’s an important point, though often feels like an after-thought when included in such statements. Just a loose commitment included to assure those critical of new anti-piracy laws that the political community doesn’t just comply with any demands the entertainment industry’s lobbyists make.

Though to be fair, the music, film and other content industries have attempted various copyright education initiatives over the years. Some pursuing the “piracy is theft – don’t be a criminal” line, others opting for a more positive “music is brilliant isn’t it – so don’t nick our stuff” message.

From the UK music community, recent efforts have included the record industry’s Music Matters initiative, and the artist manager game developed by UK Music and the Intellectual Property Office. And the music business’s trade bodies are now also backing Creative Content UK, a government-led initiative that promises further copyright education alongside the sending of warning letters to suspected file-sharers, explaining that the way they are accessing content online is likely illegal. Informing that process is a new report on copyright education published this week by Mike Weatherley MP, IP Advisor to David Cameron.

But even though most of these recent education programmes have gone with more positive messaging – which is to be commended – the results have been somewhat lacklustre. And the more positive messaging can seem a bit vague. “Piracy is theft” maybe too OTT to be credible, but at least it’s clear. “You like music, you need the music industry to create that music for you, but piracy is hurting our business, so please don’t pirate our content” lacks punch. And doesn’t counter the comeback “but what about all the tickets and t-shirts I buy?”

An IP lawyer debating copyright at a Scottish Parliament event I attended a couple of years back asked an interesting question: how is it that an industry that managed to sell the world Jedward has failed to persuade the same world of the benefits of copyright.

Well, of course, it is easier to grab people’s attention when you have two Irish idiots with silly haircuts singing ‚’Ghostbusters’ than it is when you want to teach people about the basics of IP law. And the music industry’s communicators do face a quandary: build a campaign around your stars and people will say “why should I care if those millionaires are losing money through piracy?”, but build a campaign around newer or alternative talent more dependent on a successful music industry and people are much less likely to tune in.

The Music Matters campaign tried to pull in an audience, without relying on the biggest popstars, by creating videos telling true stories about different artists’ careers and creative process. The videos were lovely and did reach an audience, but failed to really say anything
about copyright in the process; viewers instead had to accept that the video proved ‚’music matters’ and therefore that they shun piracy services (preferably ignoring the one video that seemed to be all about how the music industry had screwed over a particular songwriter leaving him penniless).

One thing you do sense in all of this is that even when the industry manages to pull an audience in to discuss piracy, it seems nervous to openly talk about copyright. Because, industry leaders say, copyright is boring and complicated and a big fat turn off – so instead, play our game, watch our film, and take it from us, piracy is bad.

But actually copyright is pretty simple. The law rewards people who invest time, money or creative energy into creating content with certain controls over how that content is subsequently used and distributed. And if they so wish, they can exploit those controls to earn money from their work. And that’s pretty much it.

Are industry leaders right to say that this is too dry a paragraph to share with the public? Perhaps they are. Or is the problem actually that many in the industry are themselves a little hazy on the ins and outs of copyright, and to them it seems more boring or complicated than it really is? Or is it that the industry doesn’t want the basic principles of copyright debated in case they end up being attacked?

Either way, while industry-led PR-run education campaigns may always face an uphill challenge, there are two other things that the music industry could be doing to tackle the copyright education challenge now.

It’s a real shame that, while the Creative Content UK initiative has the direct backing of the Department Of Culture, Media & Sport and the Department Of Business, Innovation & Skills, it does not have as a stakeholder the Department Of Education.

Getting copyright into the school curriculum should be a top priority for the content industries, and the fact Weatherley’s report also supports this proposal is a very welcome development. Of course, this only goes some way to educating the world at large about copyright, but had the music and wider copyright industries focused their lobbying efforts on this fifteen years ago, then they might now be getting their message out to each new generation of internet users in a more formalised fashion.

As the Music Publishers Association noted recently, basic copyright education is even lacking from the music curriculum. Feeding into a Department Of Education review of GCSE and A-Level courses in music, the MPA wrote: “There is no mention in either the GCSE or A Level specifications of teaching the importance of intellectual property to the creation and subsequent economic value of musical works. We believe that it is vital that students – both dealing with the work of others and producing their own work – are able to understand and respect the basic principles of intellectual property and copyright”.

Getting copyright lessons into the classroom won’t be easy, not least because it’s not entirely clear what subject area would cover it and, therefore, who would teach it. Though in the social media age – when everyone is a publisher with potentially global reach – there is a very strong argument that basic libel and privacy laws should also be taught, and intellectual property would slot nicely into that mix. And to that end, perhaps the music and wider content industries should be allying with the social networks and legal community to lobby on this point.

Lobbying the Department Of Education will be time consuming, working out where copyright should fit into the curriculum even more so, though better to start that work now than later.
But in the meantime there is something else that the music industry could be doing that could achieve much more immediate results, and that is educating its own people. I must declare our bias here – we provide copyright training to the music business – though this was also the conclusion of a panel of educators, managers and publishers debating copyright education at The Great Escape in 2013.

How many people working in the music business actually understand what copyright is, why it exists and how it works at a basic level? How many people working in the music rights sector understand copyright? Outside of the legal department, do employees in labels and music publishers really understand how music rights operate?

There is a tendency in music companies to assume that everyone understands copyright, which means people who work there tend to nod and smile when copyright is mentioned, and then carry on regardless in the hope nobody finds out how little they know about intellectual property law.

Ignorance often runs to the top of the hierarchy, not least because those who have been in the industry longest are least likely to have had any formal music business education (such college and university courses being a relative innovation).

Day to day this ignorance doesn’t matter, because the legal guys look after any deals and contracts where copyright specifics are dealt with. But when an industry is in flux, and when it is having to defend its copyrights, this ignorance becomes a major weakness. After all, how can you expect the world at large to understand and appreciate copyright, if you can’t even teach your own people.

And beyond the labels and publishers and other music companies, what about artists? The people who are, after all, the public face of the music business. Copyright is too boring and complicated for artists they say. Well, not the artists I talk to.

So to conclude, if the copyright industries are genuine in their commitment to educate as well as punish those who file-share, they shouldn’t be frightened to talk about copyright head on. They should seek time in the classroom, and they should begin by speaking to their own people.