For my final Creative Commons accreditation I decided to embark on a case study of the use of the copyright environment in the UK. I have been employed as a teacher for the whole of my career (over 30 years) in the UK although as I am a language teacher (French, Spanish) my creation of teaching resources has always crossed national boundaries. This was not really an issue in the days before the internet. I would return from time abroad with realia gathered or purchased in France for example and integrate it into my teaching. Music was a particular passion and it was very helpful in engaging learners in the language and culture (the two are really inseparable).
Once I started using the internet as a teaching tool the national boundaries were blurred, it became more simple to illustrate national differences in the classroom using websites. However, it also became more challenging as it was not always clear what could be shared through a virtual learning environment. I remember emailing Yves Duteil to ask for his permission to include his music in my French teaching. Obligingly he replied positively and I still keep his email to this day. This was the early internet, free and friendly. I felt that we were making great social progress. Some years later I compared notes with an Australian colleague who also saw the value in teaching through popular culture and we wrote this article together to explain the headaches we experienced as digital practitioners. The confusion caused by a legal system that was not fit for purpose in a digital age. For us this was not just irritating, it threatened the very practice of language teaching, undermining the need to be current and stimulating in order to engage learners. It also threatened the collegiality and sustainability of teaching practice, an idea which we investigated further in this article.
The UK is a signatory to the Berne convention and has signed major international agreements to grant some exceptions to copyright. The UK’s Intellectual Property Office website provides communication about the national position on such matters including the economic and moral rights available to copyright holders. However, a search on the site provides no reference to Creative Commons licences. There is a section on exceptions but a close and detailed reading of these shows that the Government puts great faith in the market to address any imbalance in commercial and personal requirements from copyright. For example it is acceptable to make a copy of a work in an accessible format for those with a disability IF ” a copy that would be accessible to you is not commercially available”. This is framed in a rather patronising manner in my opinion – business is doing disabled people a favour, something we should be grateful for. Creating copies for educational purposes may require paying a licence fee, and so me can assume that money talks and is a barrier to access educational opportunities. This is a huge hurdle to learning in the current UK climate where institutional budgets are tight and personal debt is seen as the way to manage access to education. Creative Commons licences can help to address this and yet they are far from the norm in state schools, where the Government pursues an ideological agenda to pass the state’s responsibilities over to the market.
Without a fairer, more balanced approach to managing the demands of capitalism with the social dynamics of education the UK looks to be favouring the exploitation of its citizens rather than supporting them in their contribution to a dynamic, innovative modern economy. I would like to see teachers and students reclaiming their copyright through the use of CC licences, declaring their commitment to learning as a human right accessible to all no matter what their means.