Film lessons need to focus on copyright

It's time pupils got a grip on the vital issue of intellectual property, writes Liz Bales

Liz Bales

The audiovisual sector plays a significant part in the UK economy. It supports some 150,000 jobs and contributes close to pound;11 billion to GDP every year. It is also a vital part of our cultural fabric, which is why even in times of austerity we continue to produce some of the best content in the world. We know many youngsters aspire to work in film and TV, and the new British Film Institute academy, announced by Michael Gove, could help many more young people to reach that goal. The explosion of tools that enable people to create and upload content is also giving them a chance to express their creativity, views and opinions in a way that has never before been possible. Plus, plans to overhaul ICT in schools look set to foster even more creativity among future generations of digitally savvy content creators.

So there is much to celebrate and look forward to. But there is an inherent tension between young people's attitudes toward their own creativity and their behaviour toward the content produced by the creative industries. Young people love film and TV. They watch a lot of it. They create it. They form their social lives around it. They long to work within it. But, unfortunately, some also fail to respect its creative value by accessing it illegally. In fact, most copyright infringement is undertaken by 16- to 24-year-olds. And there is evidence that it is those from the top income groups that are the worst offenders as they are more likely to have access to the technology to make it possible. It seems that the next generation of digital natives, so used to enjoying content for free online, are becoming removed from the idea of paying for what they access on the web. This disconnect poses a significant threat, not just for the audiovisual sector but for the creative industries more broadly as content producers of all kinds look to sell more of their content online.

The good news is that something can be done about it and that education at school age can have a positive impact. My own organisation, the Industry Trust for IP Awareness, exists to educate people about the value of copyright and to encourage people to buy legal content. Our work with young people shows that copyright education in schools can not only reduce young people's propensity to infringe copyright but also inspire them to tap into their own creative sides.

Our Screen Champions extra-curricular programme with Cineclub and Filmclub in 2011 reached 2,000 students, with three-quarters of participants saying that they would be less likely to engage in copyright infringement as a result of the programme. Nine out of 10 said that the programme made them more interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the film and TV industry and inspired them to be more original and have their own ideas. Our Be Creative programme, with FIlm Education, an educational resource for teachers that features a competition to create an advert to encourage peer-to-peer support of the UK film and TV industries, is also gaining in popularity. And our ScreenThing project - a Facebook community of about 20,000 young people - has been shown to have a similarly positive effect on both attitudes and behaviour.

So, if we are succeeding, why then do we want film education to be a core part of the curriculum, when educators have enough to contend with? The reality is that while the audio-visual sector can develop extra-curricular programmes to engage young people, it is only through embedding this in the curriculum that we will reach every young person. As we encourage the next generation to become content creators and as the internet introduces new and diverse ways to enjoy and share content at the click of a button, engendering an understanding of and respect for copyright and the value of creative works from an early age will be vital. In short, we need a collaboration between industry, teachers and those who set the curriculum to embrace this issue and give it the prominence it deserves in the years ahead.

Liz Bales is director general of the Industry Trust for IP Awareness. For more information on the Be Creative programme, visit www.filmeducation.orgbecreative.

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Liz Bales

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