Pupils struggle to take piracy subject seriously

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'DON'T do drugs" is a simple message to direct at pupils, but "don't download pirated films, games and music" is a message that is not as straightforward for them to understand.

The consequences on a young person who tries drugs can be felt directly, but the effects of obtaining copied content online are distant from the perpetrator. Not only are the ramifications not noticeable in the same room, they sometimes are not even felt in the same country.

So, how should teachers address the issue? Should Information Technology teachers hold back comments on the subject in case it sparks ideas in fertile young minds? If a pupil admits downloading material, what duties do the teachers and schools have to parents and law enforcement?

John McGhee is an IT integration manager with Glasgow City Council, a principal teacher of pastoral care and a teacher of computing at Holyrood School. He says the approach to the subject of file-sharing across Scotland is patchy.

"There's no national steer that this needs to be part of the curriculum," he says, "as you find when it's not nationally driven it's down to individual schools.

"If a child admitted they were taking drugs, there would be child protection or child welfare procedures that would kick in very quickly.

"If they admitted they were downloading content illegally, I suspect nothing would happen, other than a teacher saying, "You should not be downloading".

"That's a societal view, not the school's. Some adults think it's a victimless crime, but there's no such thing as a victimless crime.

"There should not be a different response to these subjects, so how do we address that?

"With drugs, you're seeing as harm to the child, rather than society. It is immediate harm to the child, whereas downloading songs is not immediately harmful, but it's still illegal behaviour."

In a 2003 Gallup Youth Survey, only 15 percent of youngsters aged 13 to 17 thought that "in general" downloading music was "morally wrong". Yet 81 per cent agreed cheating in tests was morally wrong.

Elsewhere, a study by UK Music, which represents the British music business, found 68 per cent of those aged 14-24 listened to music on their computer every day, with 8,159 tracks on the average hard drive; 61 per cent admitted downloading material, either through direct peer-to-peer networks, or via a large number of sharers in the form of torrents; and 86 per cent also admitted copying CDs for friends.

One of the biggest torrent services, Mininova, based in Holland, last month went "legit" by allowing only torrents of original content, not films, TV programmes or music, after losing a court case months earlier. Users have simply turned to other sites.

Liz Bales, director-general of the Industry Trust, which is funded by film and TV firms, said education was key and had become more productive than a straight anti-piracy message.

"Kids love content and they want content," she said. "You can't beat the storytelling on TV and film. It's getting people to stop and think about what the creative industry gives the UK and about the real people involved in it.

"File-sharing is a massive, massive problem and six million UK residents are accessing filesharing. From our perspective, if I was a teacher, this goes to the heart of intellectual property, which is increasingly part of the curriculum, and the creative industry is something the UK economy will depend on as manufacturing disappears.

"The message isn't 'Don't do it', but 'Think about the consequences and how you would like to get involved in being creative'."

Ms Bales added that the anti-file-sharing message also fits in with a pupil safety issues around cyber bullying, identity theft and other online threats.

The proposed Digital Economy Bill, which would affect the whole of the UK if passed, could also change how pupils are affected by their file-sharing ways, with parents having their broadband potentially cut off as a result.

Geoff Taylor, British Phonographic Industry chief executive, said the bill would be a welcomed addition to education projects, but more work was needed.

He said: "Educational projects and materials have been effective in assisting parents, teachers and other computer users in understanding and avoiding the risks associated with illegal filesharing.

"The music industry believes it is important to communicate to consumers of all ages the value of music, the importance of musicians being rewarded for their work, and the adverse impact that illegal downloading has on consumers and on the future of music.

"The creative industries have become a vital sector of the UK's economy, and if we are to continue that success and create more new and exciting jobs for young people, it is essential that we educate young people as to the value of ideas – whether their own or somebody else's.

"Both industry and government must do more to encourage greater respect for copyright and intellectual property in society. We are fortunate to have in this country a world-beating music business and an outstanding choice of legal music services online. But if they are to continue to develop, they depend on consumers choosing to enjoy music legally."

John McGhee said the new Curriculum for Excellence should allow for looking at issues such as file-sharing in greater detail.

"More than 40 per cent of teaching staff in Glasgow are over 50 years old," he says. "They are playing catch-up on a number of fronts, like cyber bullying and social networking.

"My view is you could end up with a lot of children getting involved and caught in illegality. Probably as a country we need to start to look at that. Why is it seen differently to other illegal behaviour? File-sharing has become the norm, rather than exception. Personal and social education is such a wide area that no teacher really has that scope of expertise.

"The challenge is to bring teachers up to speed and a confident level. You need a capacity for an ethical debate and a technical debate."

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