TEACHERS AND educational broadcasters are fighting proposed European Union copyright laws which could outlaw video recordings and photocopying in schools. The plans could also jeopardise the Government's high-profile National Grid for Learning by barring the downloading of information from the Internet.
Critics warn that the new copyright laws currently under discussion in the European parliament would be disastrous for children's education and disability groups.
John Russell, senior education officer at BBC Scotland, said: "This has enormous implications for the whole philosophy of schools being able to access materials."
Primary and secondary schools currently pay a fixed annual sum of about pound;1 a child for the right to record any television programme under a 1988 Educational Recording Agency agreement.
That would be threatened by the EU, which is also looking at technological ways to make unlicensed recording impossible in the era of digital television. Pressure for further tightening has come from the powerful music and film industries.
Mr Russell said that few teachers used live broadcasts. "The trend has been for teachers to record things off air to be used at an appropriate time. People record material and use it whenever they want. These materials are resources to be used in the class."
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said teaching unions across Europe were alarmed. "If you cannot record an educational programme, that is something we should be concerned about. It is going to have big ramifications for resources and should be a matter for the Government and local authorities."
Frank Harris, education officer at Granada Television, is leading the fight against the proposals, which aim to harmonise copyright laws across the EU. He believes the plans could "seriously affect the whole future learning process" because that will be based on access to new technology.
Mr Harris, spokesman for the newly established European Fair Practices in Copyright Campaign, accused the head of the legal affairs committee of the European parliament, which is investigating the copyright directive, of "not being sympathetic" to the educational lobby.
The Fair Practice campaign supports strong measures to outlaw commercial copyright piracy but argues for fair access to copyright works for non-commercial interests. This would cover private study or learning and teaching; or copying by libraries and schools for historical record.
MEPs are due to discuss the directive in two weeks. Some 25 amendments have been tabled. Opponents include the education lobby and electrical manufacturers anxious about sales of recorders, videos and tapes.
John Jordan, a spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: "We are extremely concerned and we would not wish to see the changes. It is difficult to see this getting through the Council of Ministers because of the costs to education."
Both the European parliament and Council of Ministers would have to back the directive.
HOW SCHOOLS COULD RUN INTO TROUBLE
"Harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society" proposes: l A ban on video recordings of television programmes and tapings from radio. The advent of digital television could technologically prohibit recordings.
* A possible EU-widelevy on blank tapes (the Danes pay a pound;1.50 tax on video cassettes).
* The Copyright Licensing Agency currently allows photocopying of reasonable parts of works and for research but this could be outlawed.
* Downloading from computers is threatened. The Internet is an increasingly huge source of educational material but copying from it could be made illegal and distributors could put technical restrictions in place. Alternatively, exorbitant fees could be levied.