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E-safety: Knowing your digital rights

The place: A classroom

The time: Now

Teacher: So, class, that’s your homework for today.

Boy at the back: You can’t do that, Sir. I know my rights.

T: Er, sorry, I can’t do what exactly?

BATB: Set us that homework, Sir.

T: Why not?

BATB: ‘Cos it will take about half an hour, Sir, and you’re only allowed to give us 20 minutes. I know my rights.

T: OK, do 20 minutes this evening, and 10 minutes tomorrow evening.

BATB: You can’t tell me that, Sir.

T: OK, and why not?

BATB: Cos I have a right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, Sir. I know my rights.

Lights dim as the characters continue arguing. Exeunt.

Image (c) by Pal Gallo is a situation much to be regretted that pupils who have an acute awareness – some would say an exaggerated awareness – of their “rights” often seem strangely ignorant of their intellectual property rights. We are keen to imbue young people with the principles and practices of keeping safe online, yet in my opinion one of the least addressed aspects of e-safety is keeping oneself economically safe. To put it in the vernacular, we should be making sure kids know enough not to be ripped off.

I don’t wish to get into the minefield of who owns the copyright in a drawing done by a pupil in school time on school premises and so on ad nauseum. I’m thinking more of the predilection of well-meaning teachers and parents to encourage youngsters to enter competitions without realising how much it’s potentially going to cost them – even if entry is free. It pays to read the small print.

Take, for example, the photography competitions occasionally run by newspapers and TV companies, though these are not necessarily specifically for children. Entry is free, and your photo may end up on the cover of a book, or in a calendar, or on a greetings card. Wow! How great is that?! But get out your magnifying glass to scrutinise the Terms and Conditions, and what will you find? Quite often a list of dictats that includes:

  • you agree that we can use your picture anywhere we like, in any form, forever (translation: we ain’t gonna pay you. Ever)
  • you agree that we can use your picture without acknowledgement (translation: nobody who sees the picture will even know that you took it)
  • you agree to indemnify us in the event of a prosecution (translation: if someone objects to the picture for some reason, and then sues the newspaper, you get to pay all the paper’s legal bills plus, if they lose, the fine slapped on them)

And what was that prize again? Does it compensate?

How about those competitions aimed at young fans, where you submit a music track? The prize, let’s say, is that it appears on the band’s next album. Great. But if similar conditions apply, the winning track could help to make the band pots of money, with no tangible benefit to the prizewinner. Yes, they may get a warm glow every time they hear it, but that will soon wear off once they discover that most supermarkets don’t accept warm glows in exchange for food. And who wants to end up bitter and twisted later in life when, hearing a catchy tune accompanying a TV advertisement, they realise that they are the one who composed it, and are receiving not a penny in royalties? And, moreover, never will.

Now, I realise that I probably have an oversensitive regard to such things, which comes from reading too many publishing contracts. Most likely many competitions aimed at kids are totally OK.

But that’s not the point.

If young people are going to not only survive but thrive as adults, they need to learn, once they reach an age which furnishes them with the appropriate level of maturity, that the slogan “I know my rights” applies as much to what they create as to what they do.

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