With approximately 3.6 billion social media users globally – and predictions of users increasing to over 4 billion by 2023[1] – understanding how users interact, share content and communicate with others has never been more significant.

During an A-Level Media Studies lesson, a student asked, ‘What is Article 13 on YouTube?’ This question prompted a class research project, and a subsequent discussion, about the importance of understanding copyright restrictions when using social media. The majority of the class agreed that while they had an awareness of the term ‘copyright’ they were ultimately oblivious to specific copyright laws in the UK and how these laws may affect them as avid social media users.

Since 95% of 16-24 year olds have a social media profile and at least a quarter regularly share, post and comment (Ofcom, 2020) it is arguably alarming that many are unaware of copyright infringement when online. There is a fundamental need for young people to be better educated about copyright infringement laws when sharing and uploading content online; my students became even more aware of this educational need when they wrote their submissions, for last year’s CLA writing competition, considering the statement: ‘Social media is a disaster for intellectual property’.

After writing their responses, many students suggested ways in which the CLA could provide further opportunities to educate young people about copyright infringement; however, as a Teacher of Creative Media (at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College) I also feel it is my responsibility to, at the very least, support my students in understanding copyright laws when engaging with content online. That said, how do we as educators engage our young people with learning more about copyright law?

Firstly, in order to engage students, they need to understand the relevance of learning more about copyright. Presenting recent case studies which invoke discourse and provide purpose is one method to encourage students to consider the implications of copyright infringement. For example, in 2016, there were reports of model Hailey Baldwin facing legal action after uploading quotes to Instagram, from Melissa Molomo’s book ‘Say What’s Real’, without permission or crediting the original author (BBC News, 2016). Using recent case studies provides not only a sense of purpose for students but also educates them about different copyright laws, such as Section 30 (1ZA) legislation, used to identify the wrongdoings in the case of Hailey Baldwin.

Secondly, it is important to challenge students’ understanding of copyright by nurturing classroom discussion about the need for copyright laws. When references were made to the Hailey Baldwin case study, students questioned the reasons for copyright laws often deliberating copyright ethics, such as the need for social media users to remediate content to encourage creativity in the postmodern era versus the need to acknowledge authorship and respect others’ intellectual property rights. Debates within classrooms (or virtual classrooms given the current pandemic) should be encouraged and celebrated as this helps students to learn through enquiry. During a lesson, ask your students, ‘Would you be willing to share your creative works with others online, without acknowledgement, allowing another user to take credit instead?’ …The question does generate very interesting responses and discussion!

Thirdly, in order to enable students to formulate a logical and coherent response to discourses about copyright (and supporting learners of varying abilities) scaffolding support is essential. Scaffolded support can vary from providing verbal cue cards, during a class discussion, to creating a writing frame – sometimes with sentence starters, depending on ability – to guide students through writing an academic article. Showcasing examples of written responses, and then critiquing the examples through identifying areas for improvement, can also support students with proofreading strategies for their own work.

Ultimately, the CLA’s essay writing competition has undoubtedly educated – and challenged – my students’ understanding and perception of copyright, as social media users, in the ever changing digital era. The competition has also raised awareness of the educational deficit about copyright and the need to consider ways to enlighten social media users, such as my students, to the significance of copyright laws. Furthermore, the competition was thoroughly enjoyed by many of my students and I was very proud of my students’ entries, (especially having to work independently on their responses at home during the lockdown period) and I was later delighted to learn that one of my students had achieved 1st place in the competition! 


BBC Newsbeat. (2016). The Trouble with Hailey Baldwin’s Inspirational Quotations. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/37418481/the-trouble-with-hailey-baldwins-inspirational-quotations. Last accessed 16th November 2020.

Clement, J. (2020). Number of Social Network Users Worldwide from 2017 to 2025. Available: https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/. Last accessed 17th November 2020.

Legislation Gov UK. (2020). Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Available: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48/section/30. Last accessed 16th November 2020.

Ofcom. (2020). Adults’ Media Use & Attitudes Report. Available: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0031/196375/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-2020-report.pdf. Last accessed 16th November 2020.

[1] “Statista.” Accessed November 17, 2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/