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'Stealing songs is wrong' lessons head for UK schools

Download an MP3, flunk citizenship, apparently...

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At the beginning of last month the British Government launched a "Music Manifesto" to promote music in schools. But already this typically Blairite bundle of good intentions is being hijacked (with not a little cooperation from the minders in Whitehall) in order to inflict copyright lessons on schoolchildren, from pre-school onwards.

The launch itself produced a small fissure in the musical community, with composer Julian Lloyd Webber amongst others boycotting it on the basis that the manifesto didn't actually come in with any funding for activities and instruments. And at the launch EMI commented: "We would like to see schools teaching copyright awareness so that pupils understand its importance not only to those contemplating music as a career, but to society generally" (both these reported here).

EMI, one of the manifesto's founding signatories, is a singularly appropriate sponsor of this particular spin on music for kids - not a lot of pigopolists have classic songs specifically about them. But other grinding axes can be heard.

A half-day seminar on copyright education took place two weeks ago, and there the Times Educational Supplement reports that "Estelle Morris, the arts minister [she gave the keynote], education and music industry professionals expressed concern that children were increasingly downloading illegally copied material from the Internet." And according to The Guardian EMI is planning a conference for teachers, and "working on lesson plans to explain copyright properly."

The government seems to be falling hook, line and sinker for the curious notion that you need to understand that downloading music is stealing before you can possibly learn about, to make and to enjoy music. The copyright seminar was organised by British Music Rights "in partnership" with the Department for Education and Skills and Estelle Morris' Department for Culture, Media and Sports. As BMR general manager Henry Yoxall writes: "[BMR] has signed up to the Government's Music Manifesto by pledging to help deliver an awareness of copyright and a value for creativity. Given the importance of the creative industries to the UK economy, society and culture we believe that it is essential to nurture both potential creators and innovators, as well as inform consumers and audiences of the links between creativity and copyright. We believe that building awareness of copyright and creativity should happen at the very earliest stage in the education system, in primary schools, and that throughout school this should be at the core of appropriate curriculum subjects, e.g. the arts, design and technology, citizenship and enterprise, rather than just as an optional extra."

And here it comes, folks. BMR has been involved in the development of lesson plans which have been piloted in a dozen schools in the UK, and a full-scale "awareness initiative" is to be launched in Brussels with the help of the European Music Copyright Alliance in September and rolled out across European schools in October.

As far as we can gather, the DfES is currently claiming that it plans to make intellectual property a part of "citizenship" lessons (another piece of Blairite busybodying) but that the details of this have not yet been determined. How 12 UK schools (we believe the DfES is in some vague way associated with these) came to be running pilot lessons in copyright devised by the BMR and friends is therefore unclear to us, nor is it particularly clear who's green-lighting the EMCA schools push in Europe. The EMCA does however have a "Copyright Curriculum" (available here sooon, we're told), which will include " a step-by-step easy to follow lessons plan, definition and information sheets, and exercises for students, real life examples on copyright cases and so on."

No doubt we'll see how many European governments are willing to salute in September. The arrival of such schemes in Europe follows a laughable brainwashing attempt by the MPAA in the United States. This is covered entertainingly in Wired, and we particularly draw your attention to the reactions from the Yonkers school, whose students seem to nail it all beautifully. ®

Related links:

Music Manifesto home
The Manifesto
Software pirates cost $9.7bn in Europe - BSA
Napster gags university over RIAA's student tax

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