To stop piracy, catch them young
Financial Times/Business Life 1st October 2007
When a British schoolteacher asked pupils if any of them owned pirated DVDs, one proud 13-year-old’s hand shot up. “I’ve got 250, Miss,” he boasted. It was proof the course she was teaching was needed.
The pioneering scheme, created by the British film industry, educates children why piracy is nothing to brag about. It departs from the stick rather than carrot approach usually taken by the global creative industries to combat copyright theft.
In the US the problem is estimated to cost businesses $200bn-$250bn (£97bn-£123bn) a year, according to the US-based International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition. The Alliance Against Intellectual Property Theft calculates that the UK market for counterfeit goods has passed the £9bn ($18.2bn) mark and is growing.
Those trying to crack down on the trade face widespread ignorance about copyright law, especially from children raised in a culture that regards piracy as a victimless crime. Parents shoulder a large part of responsibility, says Geraldine Maloney, spokesman of the Motion Picture Association: “Adults see it as victimless because there are so many pirated DVDs out there. But we need to turn the tables and make them realise that just because the film industry seems successful now, it won’t remain so if piracy continues at this rate.”
Ms Maloney is among those closely watching an initiative by FilmEducation, the body with the job of educating schoolchildren about the UK film industry. It has created Film Theft, a pioneering scheme teaching young people about counterfeiting and copyrights.
It is not the first time the industry has tried to spread the anti-piracy message to schools.
In Hungary and Germany, online educational materials explain the law to pupils.
In the US the MPA works with educational resources magazine the Weekly Reader to highlight hidden dangers of the internet, from piracy to paedophiles.
But FilmEducation is different. Instead of focusing on criminality, it emphasises the impact of piracy on the industry and how it could jeopardise pupils’ future careers in film and television. Film industries in France, Germany, South Africa and Australia are looking into adapting it.
The scheme is funded by All Industry Marketing, which represents film organisations including Bafta, the Motion Picture Association and the British Video Association. The first phase, aimed at 11-to-14-year-olds, was piloted last year and is rolled out nationally this term. In a documentary, shown to the students, industry figures explain how piracy undermines investment in films.
It appeals to the X Factor generation’s thirst for fame. The stark message is: if pirates steal profits, indigenous film and television industries will shrivel.
The exercise is deliberately not about Hollywood, says Ian Wall, FilmEducation managing director.
“We wanted them to understand that piracy may not affect the blockbusters being made, but it will affect films they may want to get involved with at the start of their careers if they want to work in the industry.”
At the end of the two-week course, pupils create campaigns to tackle piracy. One London school, issued a “DVD amnesty”: children could drop illegal DVDs into dump bins, free of the fear of being caught breaking the law. The bins are still being filled.
The scheme’s second phase, launched next month, targets older pupils. Called “Be Creative, Protect Creativity”, it focuses on the fall-out of copyright theft. Again it targets pupils’ ambitions to work in creative industries, showing piracy’s impact on job opportunities in design, film-making and writing.
Lavinia Carey, BVD director-general and chair of the Alliance Against IP Theft, says the emphasis on children’s self-interest works. “A lot of these children want to make a career in the creative industries, so it is about trying to get them to think about protecting an industry they love.”
Increased knowledge of intellectual property has, however, had unforeseen consequences.
“Some of them have been asking about profits from school poetry magazines featuring their work, or their art work sold to raise funds,” Ian Wall says. “That is not a bad thing. It gets them talking about what they are creating and makes them aware that it is theirs, and not for stealing.”