New rules, please

18th March 2005 at 00:00
I can't find my music, Mr M." Little Jonny can't find his music, because he's left it at home. It's a nuisance for me, but at least I know he's probably been practising. I encourage him to remember his music next time, but I mustn't overdo it, he's only 11, after all.

Experience has taught me never to distribute published originals to pupils.

Instead, I give out photocopies of instrumental parts and keep the originals somewhere safe. Whenever the "lost music" scenario arises I nip down to the photocopier to make a substitute copy and we can all get on with the rehearsal with a minimum of delay. I have never regarded this as being morally wrong. The school purchases the score and parts in the first place. I am not photocopying to sell pirate copies or swindle anybody at all. I am simply using the technology that is available to maximise learning opportunities and pupil progress. I see this as my professional duty.

However, as I understand them, copyright rules currently forbid this strategy, and I don't understand why. Keeping back-ups is a highly sensible thing to do (as was confirmed to me when my computer's hard drive mangled itself last week). ICT teachers encourage pupils to make back-ups as good practice. Software licence agreements often explicitly allow end-users to keep one back-up copy or even to install on to two computers, providing they are never used simultaneously.

The Government-backed Intellectual Property website includes a page of copyright exceptions that apply in education. One of these grants permission for: "Copying a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work in the course of instruction... so long as a reprographic process is not used."

So, if I were to make all the band members sit down at the first rehearsal and copy out their parts by hand that would be fine and legal. However, it's not exactly sound educational practice, is it? Using a photocopier instead is good and reasonable educational practice, but illegal because it involves a reprographic process. To be a good music teacher I have to break the rules.

Further down the web page of educational exceptions I find that I can copy anything for the purposes of setting or answering exam questions, but that this does not include photocopying music that is to be performed in an examination. Surely an exam is an exam in any subject?

The next exception tells me that we can only freely perform copyright works in front of teachers and pupils, but not generally in front of parents. So, when it comes to public concerts I'm expected to negotiate copyright clearance for all the published items we plan to perform. Should I really prioritise this administrative chore over educational interactions?

I also read that I can make photocopies providing "not more than 1 per cent is copied and where there is no licensing scheme." So, I'm allowed to photocopy Jonny's part if it's from an arrangement with more than 100 parts (which lends new meaning to "big band") or if I only want to practice three bars of a piece with 300 bars. Not very helpful is it? But what's that licensing scheme they mention?

Whatever it is (see, I don't think I should have to bother myself with it as a teacher. We should all be professionally licensed under a simple blanket principle such as: "End-user copyright rules do not apply in legitimate non-profit educational activities, except that resources published specifically for the education market may not be duplicated for simultaneous use."

I'm not arguing against the principle that creators and performers deserve a fair income. Of course they do, and there is a separate complex debate over how to levy income from end-users in this digital age. However, I would argue for radically different rules for pupils and educators. The music industry doesn't seem to acknowledge that we nurture their future customers.

Music teachers shouldn't be placed in professional jeopardy by educational copyright rules that are too complex and time consuming to be realistic. We probably all reluctantly bend existing law. Isn't it time that copyright rules for schools were simplified to reflect common and rneasonable practice?

* faqcopyrightex_education.htm

Andy Murray is a consultant for ICT in music education

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