Digital, information or copyright literacy for all?

copyright-literacy-cakesThere has been a lot happening in the world that indicates that digital and information literacy are vital skills to survive in the 21st Century. Whether it’s knowing how to work out fake from real news to staying safe online and maintaining your digital well being, these are all critical abilities everyone needs unless you decide to cut yourself off from the internet and go and live off the grid!
However, while I am passionate about helping people find, evaluate and use information I have been struck by the increasing need for everyone to develop what Chris and I call ‘copyright literacy‘ and how this relates closely to information literacy. Some might think copyright literacy is something only specialists or professionals need; teachers creating online courses, librarians digitising collections or artists and musicians who want to re-mix others work. However, if you own a smart phone, or pretty much any device with access to the internet, then copyright and licensing impacts on your life, whether you know it or not. This notion was highlighted in the Guardian shortly after the new year, in a story about how children were “regularly and unknowingly’ signing over their digital rights on social media. The UK’s Children’s Commission had published ‘Growing Up Digital’ a report detailing, among other things, ways in which the Internet can help young users become better informed about the websites and apps they use. The story highlighted the popular photo sharing social media site, Instagram, which is used by more than half of 12 to 15 year-olds, and 48% of eight- to 11-year-olds. The Guardian explained how “Instagram has terms and conditions that none of the young children in the taskforce’s focus group could fully understand. Only half of the eight- to 11-year-olds could even read the terms, which ran to more than 5,000 words on 17 pages of text”.
A privacy law expert from the firm Shillings was tasked by the Children’s Commission with re-writing the terms so they could be understood by 13 year olds and found that in the main the teenagers were not happy with the rights they were signing away. Many children suspected the terms of use were deliberately written in such a way that they couldn’t understand. The report went on to highlight the importance of e-safety and privacy issues, and while copyright perhaps seems insignificant in light of the threat of online abuse and exploitation of children, it highlighted to me the importance of a comprehensive digital literacy curriculum in the schools. It also seems that in addition to highlighting the dangers of the internet, a key part of digital literacy should surely be about understanding your rights, and understanding that the terms and conditions of apps are legal agreements. It’s all too easy to just agree to these without reading them, but we would all be advised to think before we click.
I’m also reminded of the Crash Course video, an Introduction to Intellectual Property or their video on Copyright Basics, which highlights how copyright is something that impacts on all of us but we tend to encounter it when someone is telling us no, or telling us about something we can’t do. In addition to making digital literacy more about the benefits, rather than dangers of using the internet, wouldn’t it be better if copyright and IP education focused on user’s rights and copyright exceptions, not just the thing they can’t do? That is my intention, to develop copyright and information and digital literacy education that empowers people, teaches them about their rights and makes them think about the ethics of what they are doing, and to be careful about what they might be signing away when they agree to terms and conditions of use. I was struck by the talk Daniel Levitin gave last week at the RSA, based on his book The Field Guide to Lies, and he suggested that in the age when we can Google everything, we just spend a bit of time, that would have been taken up running to the library, searching through books for information, to do some thinking about what we have just read. To sense check it and to ask some questions about who wrote it. Sensible advice! And some might call that critical thinking.
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