Intellectual property education needed among students

A faculty member in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) has called for education in intellectual property protection across disciplines as tough, new federal protections against piracy have become law.

“There are many people who need to learn much more about intellectual property,” said John Bagby, professor of information sciences and technology. “Copyrights are only one piece of it.”

“We are graduating just thousands of people who are ill-equipped for the knowledge economy,” said Bagby, also co-director of the Penn State Institute for Information Policy.

His comments come soon after the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property, or PRO-IP, Act was approved by President George W. Bush Oct. 13. The law, passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of Congress, significantly increases penalties for copyright infringement and creates a new office of intellectual-property enforcement in the White House.

Focusing on the curriculum at Penn State, Bagby indicated that while licensing, copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets touch many disciplines — from those involving the written word to those involving the invention of new products — there are relatively few courses covering it at Penn State.

“Modern ventures rely heavily on intellectual property,” Bagby said. “In much of the ‘new economy’ the founding entrepreneur’s primary innovation is a business model necessarily built around intellectual property.”

For students, the issue goes beyond the legality of peer-to-peer sharing of music or movie files.

“The software writer who goes online and downloads code and includes that in their program is infringing and too many of them don’t understand that,” Bagby said. “A major misconception is that widespread availability of a ‘work’ implies that it is already in the public domain, a fallacy shared about open-source software.”

Knowledge of these facts will not only protect students from poaching on the intellectual property of a favorite band, but it also will be valuable to them as they enter their professional lives as well, he said.

Strongly backed by the entertainment industry and other creators of content, the new law comes at a time when technology has changed the intellectual property battleground. No longer is the issue simply the sharing of single pop tunes as with the Napster controversy in the '90s. Significant advances in bandwidth and storage capacity have made it easy to share whole movies, even in high definition.

Bagby predicted increasing future challenges in the realm of intellectual property as technology continues to evolve.

Last Updated July 22, 2015