Keep it simple with digital: reforming copyright to help Europe's teachers and students

Source: A. (Andrus) Ansip i, published on Tuesday, December 20 2016.

In education, teachers use a lot of different materials to get their points across to students - text, images, music, video - as a way to make the learning experience easier and richer.

It may be a simple photocopy, a song recorded from the radio, a clip downloaded from a website. However, teachers using materials like these with their students may be breaking copyright laws and not even be aware they are doing so.

Under today's rules, EU countries can issue a legal exception to cover these kinds of reproduction when they concern illustration for teaching purposes.

Unfortunately, there are many differences around Europe in how these exceptions are applied, especially when it comes to using copyright-protected material in digital or online teaching activities.

Digital technologies are transforming the teaching and learning environment. They are being used more and more throughout education: laptops in the classroom to show video clips, interactive whiteboards to display webpages, for example.

But current EU law does not properly address digital's significant presence and influence in the learning environment. It needs to catch up.

In a recent survey, only 34% of teachers and 26% of students said they found the copyright conditions for material that can be used for teaching/learning purposes to be very clear.

Almost one in four teachers said they came across copyright-related restrictions in their digital teaching activities at least once a week.

If the legal position for using copyrighted material for teaching is unclear, or if there are specific restrictions in place, there is one obvious consequence: both teachers and their students will refrain from using it. And probably more so, if they have to access it online. There is also the risk of protected material being used illegally.

There is no reason why the situation that Europe has today should continue - where people simply do not know their legal position when it comes to using digital material in education.

It does not help teachers or learners. And it constrains the wide range of media and content that technology can offer.

We need to clarify that the legal exception in copyright law for teaching illustration - for non-commercial purposes and in controlled learning environments - is mandatory across the EU and crucially, that it properly covers digital and online uses as well.

This is what we proposed in our copyright reform in September.

I know that some EU countries have licensing systems in place that already work well. There is no need to "rock the boat" here or to antagonise publishers needlessly.

This is about acting Europe-wide to streamline the rules, encouraging modern multi-media teaching and bringing the most benefit to the largest number of people.

It means simplifying a legally complex situation in the European Union so that students and teachers can feel confident and legally secure about using copyrighted material in digital education activities.

Digital technologies do not provide a shortcut to good education. But their potential to improve and enrich the learning experience is huge. Making Europe's copyright system better suited to the digital age is an important step in that direction.

Another blog soon.