Public Awareness of Copyright Issues: A Perspective for the Future

Maria Canellopoulou-Bottis


Public awareness has been an objective for governments and all kinds of lobbies for a great number of issues such as environmental protection and the fight against AIDS.

Public awareness means attitudes, behaviors, opinions and activities that comprise the relations between the general public or lay society as a whole to a patricular matter of wider signifinace. Public awareness does not have a legal nature and a lawyer is not any more qualified position than another professional to explore public awareness and certainly not more than a professional specialized in for example, public relations and communication. Still, a copyright lawyer should know what copyright is about and moreover, what copyright is for lay people-she should also have an idea of what changes (legal and, secondly, other) are necessary to promote public awareness of copyrights.

We seem to live in a very anti-copryight age, an age where we can speak with relative accuracy about a movement against intellectual property in general, and against intellectual property as a very idea. The scholars who attack intellectual property do not question it only when it comes to the Internet; they explore the fundamental question of the necessity or justice of intellectual property in general. And these scholars are not few, nor are they insignificant, and their arguments, that very often reach deep into constitutional and more specifically, human rights issues, are certainly not to be ignored. At least definately not when one aims at copyright public awareness. Although some people have become more involved with reading these arguments, or exploring works such as Lessig’s book Code and other Laws of Cyberspace, or become more sensitive to how intellectual property jas impacted the public domain, the majority of people who respond, do so because the arguments presented are sometimes powerful and true. If we want lay people to listen to copyright lawyers, there must be a concrete legal response to these arguments.

Techniques’ of raising public awareness about any issue are not new or unknown to professionals exactly in this matter. One could safely propose, for example, to a country suffering from acute intellectual property breaches (say, constant counterfeiting, importing of fake goods, digital content illegal copying these countries are many) the following measures:

  • to organize copyright public awareness weeks. For example, the US Copyright Office has organized a Copyright Awareness Week (March 6-10, 2007)
  • to use easy little books for childern about copyrights. An example of this is the UNESCO’s book for children, titled ‘the Imaginative Professions’
  • to use copyright awareness posters in public places, such as, for example, the Mafalda cartoons posted on the public transport netwrok of Bogota in 2005
  • to intorduce seminars in schools about copyright protection, its foundations and basic rules
  • to engage in a series of press releases, feature stories and interviews published in the local media, like the Jordan government promoted
  • to support with grants special University Intellectual Property chairs and introducing intellectual property in the law schools curricula, possibly as a mandatory subject
  • to organize in schools the showing of films showing how artists work, how music is produced, how drugs are researched and manufactured, and other techniques.

Before starting a project like the above, perhaps it is wise to check whether similar projects had any significant success in the past. This is crucial, because, among other reasons, large amounts of resources are necessary to complete this sort of projects. Again, specialized professionals are equipped with the scientific tools to measure whether and to what extent copyright public awareness projects did suceed in their objectives.

Informing about illegality of copying and achieving this kind of knowledge is not enough for a campaign to be successful. A very interesting note in a Hong Kong evaluation of a copyright public awareness campaign was that the percentage of people knowing, after the project, that this file-sharing is illegal, augmented, but simultaneously, the percentage of people who continued to engage in this type of illegal file-sharing also increased (from 3.5 percent in 2004 to 6.8 percent in 2005).

Success has not been evidenced, when it came to copyright acceptance by people. Such success could be detected if, for example, people tended to lessen their illegal copying of protected material from the Internet. This could be an expected result, especially after the widely-publicised cases against individuals, such as the case against Jesse Jordan, a student, by the Recording Industry Association of America, for constructing and uploading a search engine which allowed, among other funtions, the unauthorized sharing of musical files and of course, the famous Napster case.

The rule, however, as it seems today remains that piracy (unauthorized use and consumer distribution) is the de facto social norm for approximately 50 per cent of the populations targeted in special surveys. Simultaneously, there seems to be, indeed, a message inconsistency to the consumers: opposite tendancies towards both copyright protection and, also, towards a more open and free access to works and information.

It is also very interesting to explore the question of copyright’s public awareness through the various ‘glasses’ of the various philosophical and legal theories behind copyright protection. This brings us to what I think is the heart of the matter: why do we have intellectual property rights? One must have a decent answer to offer to laypeople, when one asks them to refrain from unbeatable temptations, such as buying an illegal CD copy from a man in the street, or illegally downloading the latest movie with their computer.

What is proposed to remedy the copyright awareness/acceptance problem? Is it true that words in IP discourse such as ‘rightholders’ should be replaced by ‘painters, sculptors, musicians, writers’ and ‘copyright industries’ with ‘copyright-based industries’?

More correct is, though, to try and fight the reason behind the ‘piratical’ behavior, which necessitates the substantial promotion of balanced approaches to intellectual property rights. The paper will present a series of recommendations to achieve this balance.