Learning the copyright lessons – copyright licensing schemes in the UK education sector

Published: 1 December 2011

In order to stimulate the ongoing debate on how to update copyright licensing, Consumer Focus and the National Education Network (NEN) are publishing this report on copyright licensing schemes in the educational sector. (An Executive summary (PDF 44KB) version is also available.)

Schools and other educational establishments depend on licences from collecting societies, or copyright licensing agencies, to enable the use of copyright protected works. The report was prepared by Pinsent Masons LLP for Becta, but with Becta’s abolition in April 2011 the report was not widely distributed. Since the report was completed in May 2010 there have been changes in the services offered by some licensing agencies, as well as changes to the policy directing school education and the role of local authorities. However, these changes have not diminished the relevance of the main findings of the report and the challenges offered by its recommendations for the debate today.

The report surveys copyright licensing for schools and the licences offered by more than 12 copyright licensing agencies for the educational use of copyrighted works in schools. Schools may be covered by blanket licences obtained by their local authority on their behalf or can obtain licences direct from the relevant licensing agency. The report identifies a range of problems with the current system and makes the general point that with the rapid development of digital technologies and e-learning the education licences available often do not, individually or collectively, cover the needs of schools today. While there are more than 12 licences for educational establishments, the report found that the existing licences do not cover all uses in educational establishments which may require a licence. These gaps mean schools are restricted in the resources they can use for many functions essential to the delivery of a modern curriculum.

The report identifies several options for reform, including the increased use of blanket licensing through local authorities and improved information provisions, collated from across the agencies with searchable databases to help schools identify what licences they need for particular work and what licences they already have in place. An effective licensing system could reduce the administrative burden and cost to educational establishments while increasing coverage of copyright materials available for education use. The outcome of such action would remove current barriers to the effective use of resources, allow pupils and  teachers increased freedom to operate within the scope of the law and relevant licensing schemes and support the effective delivery of a 21st century curriculum.

The report was commissioned by Becta in 2009 and Pinsent Masons LLP prepared the report on the basis of discussions with local authorities, who manage the purchase of licences for schools in some areas, and some of the licensing agencies. The report was completed by Pinsent Masons LLP in May 2010 under the title The UK Copyright Licensing Schemes in the Educational Sector. The report was provided to Consumer Focus and the NEN by Becta under a non-exclusive Open Government Licence. Consumer Focus and the NEN subsequently submitted the report to the call for evidence of the Independent Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, announced by the Prime Minister in November 2010. The report was referenced several times by the Hargreaves Review, as ‘Pinsent Masons LLP report for Becta’.

Consumer Focus and the NEN are publishing this report with only minor editorial amendments. To make the report more accessible we have added a list of abbreviations, summaries and have published the two schedules separately. The re-published report and its schedules are subject to an Open Government Licence, which supersedes any NEN or Consumer Focus copyright statements. The Open Government Licence does not cover the stock photos included in the report. The original report as provided by Pinsent Masons LLP to Becta in May 2010 is also subject to an Open Government Licence and can be found at

Learning the copyright lessons – Schedules (PDF 251KB)

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Learning the copyright lessons (cover)