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Schools and the Fight Against Piracy

by Kate Lazar

Piracy and copyright infringement have been making headlines in recent years.

This is not only as a result of Australia reportedly having one of the highest rates of infringement in the world – but also due to the amendments to the Copyright Act 1968 passed in the Australian Senate in June 2015, enabling rights holders to go to court to block overseas websites that facilitate access to copyright-infringing material, including movies and music.

An independent study 1 commissioned by not-for-profit organisation IP Awareness and conducted by Sycamore Research in partnership with Newspoll explored behaviours and attitudes of Australians to online film and television piracy.

The findings revealed that 26 per cent, or roughly one in four, of Australians aged 12 to 17 participate in some form of piracy activity.

It was interesting to establish that pirating is not the social norm amongst Australians aged 12 to 17 despite the anecdotal assertion that “everyone does it”, but it also gives us clear indications of a lack of understanding amongst that age group about the concept of copyright.

In the 2014 IP Awareness study, 71 per cent of Australians aged 12 to 17 answered ‘no’ when asked if they have ever been taught anything specifically about movie or television piracy at school by their teachers.

This didn’t surprise me at all – my years of teaching have helped me understand why the issue of copyright is very complex in the school environment.

As a teacher, you work within a set of rules and guidelines about accessing copyrighted material in the process of teaching your students. But I had never given much thought to the relationship of students to copyrighted material in an outward-facing sense. And I understand why teachers approach copyright and all its complexities on a need-to-know basis.

A more surprising revelation from the study for me was that 20 per cent of active teen pirates download or stream pirated material at school.

Given that communicating cyber safety is a priority in schools, it is important for educators to be aware that websites which facilitate access to copyright-infringing content pose dangers for young users.

The IP Awareness study shows that 53 per cent of 12- to 17 year-olds who use illegal websites to access pirated content recall viewing gambling advertisements and 43 per cent have seen adult industry or R-rated advertisements.

This supports recent academic research 2 which found piracy websites are increasingly dependent on high-risk advertisements as their primary means of profit (Watters, 2013). Children who access illegal sites to download copyright-infringing movies and TV shows may be exposed to graphic pornographic advertisements, unregulated gambling sites, scams, viruses and identity theft.

It’s also important to encourage and support educators and students to embrace and shape the principles of digital citizenship. Teaching students to engage safely online is a priority. Discussions around behaving responsibly and respectfully online are also essential. I’d like to see the conversation bring into a sharper focus that good digital citizens respect copyright and the work of others.

I know from experience that discussions around online piracy sometimes appear counterintuitive to teenagers, whose instincts as ‘digital natives’ are to view, like, share, forward and mash content which may be their own or others.

There is clearly a tension between their instinctive approach to consuming content, and the reality that professional creatives depend on the right use of their work for their livelihood. In my work with IP Awareness, we strive to encourage an understanding that paying for what you watch and listen to ensures the creators are rightfully remunerated. Understanding this is integral to good digital citizenship.

The research study found that the frequency of piracy activity increases with age, underscoring the need to reach out to both primary and secondary schools. Amongst 12- to 13-year-olds it is at 14 per cent and for 16- to 17-year-olds it is at 36 per cent.

At the IP Awareness Foundation we use research insights to produce curriculum-linked education resources in conjunction with education specialists that offer teachers and students an engaging path to the understanding and appreciation of copyright and a nuanced approach to the subject of copyright infringement.

We work to raise awareness within school communities that any discussion around ethical behaviour in the digital realm should recognise that accessing intellectual property via unauthorised websites or sources is a practice that jeopardises the sustainability of our creative communities.

Brett Lamb, a teacher of VCE Media at East Doncaster Secondary College in Melbourne, Victoria, has used the foundation Making Movies resource 3 in the classroom and reports that his students were intrigued by the filmmaking process and ultimately became more aware of how piracy affects the industry.

'The resource is not about convincing students that piracy is wrong. It’s about developing a more sophisticated understanding of the filmmaking industry. Students who undertake VCE Media are interested in the media and often consider pursuing employment in this area. Making Movies is designed to develop their understanding of the filmmaking process and its enormous complexity,’ Lamb says.

'As digital technology makes filmmaking more accessible and opens new ways to distribute films, the industry is trying to keep up with the pace of change. In my classroom, the tension between new technology and existing business models has provided students with an opportunity to engage in deep learning by developing their appreciation of these layered issues.'

'After learning about the stages and roles in the film production process, students were certainly more aware of how consumer behaviour is influencing the industry’.

So, how effective have our resources been in helping teachers and students navigate this topical and often controversial issue? It’s logistically difficult to measure outcomes beyond anecdotally but we have received lots of positive feedback from teachers and outreach from principals who want their schools to more deeply engage on digital citizenship as part of their wellbeing programs.

Kate Lazar has more than 13 years’ experience as a teacher in secondary schools, including as Head of English. She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Majors in English, French and Film & Theatre Studies, a Master of Educational Leadership and sits on the Bell Shakespeare Company's Development Committee. Kate joined IP Awareness as Education Program Manager in February 2014 - view the free online teaching resources at www.nothingbeatstherealthing.info or www.ipawareness.com.au.

This article first appeared in Teacher, published by ACER. Reproduced with kind permission. Visit www.teacher.com.au for more.


1 2014 IP Awareness Research: ipawareness.com.au/research/2015

2 University of Ballarat Research 2013 “A Systematic Approach to Measuring Advertising Transparency Online” Prof. Paul A Watters

3 http://www.nothingbeatstherealthing.info/making-movies/making-movies

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