Proposed laws could deprive teachers of valuable classroom tools. Robert Mendick reports.
TEACHERS are fighting proposed European Union copyright laws which could outlaw video recordings and photocopying in schools.
The scheme, its detractors say, would be disastrous for children's education. The new copyright laws, currently under discussion in the European Parliament, could also bar the downloading of information from the Internet.
The National Union of Teachers has joined a growing campaign lobbying against any new Brussels law.
Currently, primary and secondary schools pay a fixed annual sum - about pound;1 per child - for the right to record unlimited television programmes under a 1988 Educational Recording Agency agreement.
That would be threatened by the EU, which is also looking at technological ways to make illicit recording impossible in the era of digital television.
An NUT spokeswoman said: "Educational programmes are not necessarily broadcast at an appropriate time for every school, so videoing them is essential if schools are to make proper use of the material available.
"Broadcast programmes can give a greater breadth and promote an interest in complex areas for pupils and support the teachers' work very well. They are an integral part of every school."
Frank Harris, a former teacher and education officer for Granada Television, is leading the fight against the proposals, which aim to harmonise copyright laws across the EU.
Mr Harris, spokesman for the newly-set-up European Fair Practices in Copyright Campaign said: "As we see it, David Blunkett's Learning Age will be seriously challenged by any new EU ruling.
"It could stop downloading of computer programs from the Internet and that could seriously affect the whole future learning process."
Mr Harris accused the head of the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament, which is looking at the EU Copyright Directive, of "not being sympathetic" to educational and disabilities lobbies.
* HOW SCHOOLS COULD END UP IN TROUBLE
THE 54-page EU Directive, 'Harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society', is cause for extreme concern says its arch-opponent Frank Harris. "The ignorance of teachers about this is very, very worrying," he says. "Suddenly teachers could find themselves clouted by a new law."
These are the areas which could land schools in the dock: l A ban on video recordings of television programmes and audio tapings from the radio. The advent of digital television could technologically prohibit recordings. A levy on blank tapes (the Danes pay a pound;1.50 tax on blank video cassettes) could be introduced.
* Photocopying could be outlawed. Currently, the Copyright Licensing Agency allows photcopying of reasonable part of works but this is threatened by the directive. "The implications for all sorts of learning are very serious indeed," says Mr Harris.
* Downloading from computers is threatened. The Internet is an increasingly huge source of educational material but copying from it could be made illegal with technical restrictions put in place to prevent downloading of information. Alternatively exorbitant fees could be levied for copying from the Internet, says Mr Harris.