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Copyright in the Classroom – Mine, Yours, Theirs

February 2009

Do elementary school students have any interest in copyright? What would be the right age to address them on the issues? Is there a playful and educational way of broaching the topic with them? To get the answers, the WIPO Communications Division visited the International School of Geneva to lead classroom sessions underlining the importance of copyright. The first Copyright in the Classroom lesson, held in 2007, was presented to 8 and 9 year-old students, the second, in December 2008, to 11 and 12 year-olds.

Copyright in the Classroom, prepared in consultation with the school’s teachers and librarian, is a lesson plan based on the WIPO publication “Learn from the Past, Create the Future: The Arts and Copyright.” The main lesson covers the basic concepts of works and authors, moral and economic rights and the different symbols and notifications that signal to third parties that a work is copyrighted or otherwise protected by intellectual property. In response to questions posed by students, piracy issues were also covered. The use of modern classroom technology (an interactive Smartboard) allowed the presentation to be animated and interactive.

In the classroom

The day before the lesson, the teachers talked to the students about works of art and their importance, and asked them to bring their favorite works (books, DVDs or CDs) to school the next day. At the start of the lesson, the different types of artistic expression and their supports were reviewed and students were asked to identify the different types of artistic expression contained in the works they had brought in and name their authors. Thus, students recognized that several artistic works can be contained in a single support, for example a book contains the written work but also cover illustrations and photographs, all of which are often produced by different authors. Books, DVDs and even a painting went back and forth across the room as students excitedly identified the different works and their authors.

Through a series of leading questions, the students themselves listed all the different rights that authors have in relation to their works. The students were introduced to the official vocabulary of these moral and economic rights and engaged in an interactive exercise to ensure their understanding of them. Using the Smartboard, students were asked to match pictures of book covers, DVDs, video games, etc., related to a single, well-known work to the corresponding economic right of the original author of the work (translation, adaptation, interpretation, etc.).

The students – who were just learning to write research papers with bibliographies – made the link between authors’ rights and the recognition they give to authors in their citations.

Having identified the rights of the authors of their favorite works, the students learned to recognize their own roles as authors who produce creative works over which they – like all other authors – hold copyright. They were shown how to sign and date their works and to use the copyright symbol.

During the lessons, the students raised many questions:

  • Is it OK to modify music?
  • Are we allowed to sell secondhand books?
  • How do you get permission if the author is dead?
  • Who gets the money when the author is dead?
  • What happens once copyright runs out?

Providing even such a brief introduction to copyright in a one-hour class was a tight fit. What would they retain?

Lessons learned

The feedback from students and teachers made it clear that young students are interested in copyright issues. It also indicated that the best time to teach basic copyright concepts – authors, their rights, the reason for copyright – is when students are around 8 to 9 years’ old. By the time they are 11 to 12 years’ old, students are ready to learn about, and are interested in, more complex issues such as downloading, piracy and the public domain.

The teachers’ feedback showed that the students thought the information was important and useful – especially the part about copying music and films from the Internet. The students found the arguments against illegal downloading from the Internet convincing. Some of them had gone home and discussed what they had learned with their parents and siblings. The teachers thought it important that the students had made the connection between what they had learned and writing bibliographies and footnotes – one of their goals being to instill in students a sense of academic integrity.

The students also had comments about the lessons: they had enjoyed the interaction and wished there had been more, and they thought the student packs were an excellent idea. However, some of the 10 and 12 year-old students thought the lesson – its language and content – was pitched for younger students.

Building a network

Keeping in mind the comments of the sculptor Nicolas Lavarenne (see page 13), it would seem there is room for improvement in copyright education in the classroom. Children need to be shown why they should respect the rights of others and to realize that they also are concerned as they might one day be the ones making a living and providing for their families thanks to copyright.

The International School of Geneva plans to distribute and promote the Copyright in the Classroom comprehensive curriculum among educators worldwide through the website and international conferences of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP), a trans-disciplinary program of international education.

Through outreach efforts such as Copyright in the Classroom, improved and refined with each new experience, WIPO hopes to build a network of educators who can develop, share and adapt the lesson plans in their classrooms. This experience shows that the materials must be tailored to each age group to most efficiently reach students of different ages and backgrounds.

WIPO materials for teaching IP in the classroom

Teachers have remarked that the WIPO comics are “fun and useful” in explaining IP concepts in their classes and that their own IP knowledge was based on what they had learned in the comics. As well as the comics, other WIPO materials that could be used in the classroom include:


By Susie Chang, WIPO Magazine Editorial Team, Communications Division

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The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.