Why we shouldn’t teach children that infringing IP is immoral

ip-crimeThe UK Intellectual Property Crime Group and the UK Intellectual Property Office have just published their 2015-16 IP Crime Report.

Actually, it is not clear who is taking editorial responsibility for the report, as it comes with a 400 pound disclaimer:


The IP Crime Group is a collaboration among various bodies, including many that lobby on behalf of the owners of IP, particularly the types of IP that are commonly counterfeited, such as images, designs, consumer goods and software.

IP Draughts continues to be uncomfortable about the UK government appearing to act as a cheerleader for certain types of IP owner. There seems to be a several-step process:

  1. Government is understandably sympathetic to the concerns of IP owners about counterfeit goods.
  2. Government listens to lobbying by these IP owners as to the need for more laws, more enforcement, more education of the public about obeying the law, etc. Perhaps because the main focus of this lobbying is on counterfeit goods, there is no counter-argument by IP users. After all, who would lobby for counterfeiters?
  3. Government strengthens the law, eg there has been a recent change to make it a criminal offence to intentionally infringe a registered design.
  4. Lobbying groups tick that off the list and argue that, to be consistent, intentional infringement of other types of IP should be a criminal offence.

For example, the following paragraph appears in the above-mentioned report and appears to have been contributed by ACID:

Anti-Copying in Design (ACID)

Current Concerns – Unregistered Design Rights (UDRs)

The lack of criminal provisions for UDRs is no longer in step with
the criminal provisions for Registered Designs (RDs). Despite
improvements to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court
(IPEC) and Small Claims Track, this route can be cost prohibitive
for micro and SME designers anxious to take infringement
action. As the majority of designers rely on UDRs the door is open
for organised criminals seeking to infringe UDRs.

lobbyistsIn IP Draughts’ view, this is a very slippery slope. It reminds him of a meeting that he attended last year, with representatives of ACID and other lobbying bodies, the IP professions, and the UK government. The topic under discussion was educating children about IP. Until IP Draughts spoke up, there seemed to be a consensus in the meeting that children should be taught that IP infringement was bad and that they shouldn’t do it.

IP Draughts’ recommendation was that children should be taught about the consequences of IP infringement, but should not be fed a “moral” view on the subject. This immediately met with a heated response from some of the people present. One representative said it was like burgling someone’s house – of course you shouldn’t do it.

After a few moments, IP Draughts responded that of course one should be taught to obey the criminal law, but most IP infringement claims are based on the civil law. (Of course, this argument is weakened if some of the lobbying bodies have their way, and extend the range of criminal IP offences.)

If he had been quicker-witted, he might have followed up the burglery analogy with one about civil trespass. Should children be taught not to trespass? IP Draughts is not so sure. The famous mass trespass in 1932 on the Duke of Devonshire’s land at Kinder Scout was controversial at the time, but is now celebrated by the Ramblers Association and others who support the “right to roam”. To quote Wikipedia:

On 21 and 22 April 2007, the Ramblers celebrated the 75th anniversary of the illegal trespass of Kinder Scout and the imprisonment of those who participated.

IP Draughts is not siding with IP infringers. He just thinks it isn’t always obvious where “right” lies, particularly with civil torts of IP infringement. And some people campaign vigorously about this subject, eg those in the open source movement who are hostile to software copyright. By all means, educate children and adults about IP and about the consequences of IP infringement. But without the element of moral instruction.

1 Comment

Filed under Intellectual Property, Legal policy

One response to “Why we shouldn’t teach children that infringing IP is immoral

  1. Interesting point indeed! I share the sentiment that we must be slow in criminalising each and every IP infringer for obvious reasons. But should the moral element be disassociated from IP law ? Isn’t moral right very much an integral part of copyright? This definitely warrants further and deeper deliberations amongst all stakeholders.

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