It’s been a long time since the world’s greatest minds, like Albert Einstein, John Nash, and Paul Erdos, shared their intellectual property insights with their fellow students.
Now, a Harvard study published in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice reveals that many students at elite colleges don’t really understand the value of copyright, and may not know how to properly use it.
But that’s not all.
While the study doesn’t say exactly how many students in the United States have heard of copyright and what their rights are, it does show that the vast majority don’t realize that copyright is a vital tool for our economy.
It also shows that students aren’t understanding the difference between copyright and patents, and that copyright laws can have a huge impact on their ability to learn.
The Harvard study is the first to delve into the issue of copyright on college campuses.
It’s one of the first studies to examine students’ understanding of copyright in a wide range of academic disciplines.
“I think this will really help us as we start to develop policy and legislation to help students understand what copyright is and what it does,” said Andrew Cohen, associate dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a professor of law and public policy at Harvard.
“And I think we’re going to see an increase in awareness in the future.”
The researchers looked at responses from over 400 students across six universities.
The results were staggering.
While many students have heard about copyright and the importance that it holds in the economy, a whopping 91 percent of students don’ t understand the basic concept behind copyright.
Only 8 percent of those surveyed understood the “first-sale doctrine,” which is the principle that allows a copyright holder to sue a third party for infringement.
And just 9 percent of the students understood the idea that the “right of publicity” gives copyright holders the right to sell their works.
The survey also found that students who have never been involved with the legal system don’t even understand the meaning of copyright.
Nearly half of all students (47 percent) didn’t even know that copyright protection protects the creation of original works.
In fact, just 16 percent of college students understood that copyright applies to all copyrighted works.
Even more alarming, almost half of students didn’t understand that copyright protects the right of publicity.
The study found that just 17 percent of all college students (18 percent) understood that “the owner of a work may use the work without permission or payment.”
The rest (29 percent) don’t know.
In an email interview with Newsweek, Dr. Cohen said the survey is a good starting point for policy makers and students to better understand copyright, but more needs to be done.
“As we begin to move forward, we can only do so much, and there is a lot of room for improvement,” he said.
“We need to do more research on the issue, particularly on students, so that we can better understand the relationship between copyright law and their ability for students to learn and the economy.”
In addition to copyright, the study also explored the impact of other forms of intellectual property like patents and trademarks.
Students at all levels are more likely to be confused about the relationship of copyright to intellectual property than students at the very top of the economic ladder, where patents are the most common form of intellectual protection.
“Students who have been educated about copyright in high school or college probably have less understanding of what it is than those who have not been,” said Cohen.
“They may think it’s only a copyrights’ right to use your own intellectual property.”
The Harvard survey was conducted in 2014, which means that the survey could be affected by changes in the law in the near future.
And while the study isn’t perfect, it is a step in the right direction.
“The fact that a significant number of students do not understand copyright is significant, and should be a wake-up call to policymakers and students,” said study author Christopher Koehler, a professor in the Department of Law at Harvard Law School.