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Exploring Copyright: History, Culture, Industry

Understand the importance of copyright and learn its history, from the Renaissance to the Internet, with this free online course.

15,030 enrolled on this course

Movable Type
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Explore the meaning of the word 'copyright'

Have you ever thought about how a composer or a writer makes a living? This course will explore the history of creators becoming professionals. You’ll learn how a legal system developed from the idea that authors own the works they create. You’ll discover how technical progress in communication, beginning with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, have enabled the growth of the creative industries. We’ll also consider why the latest digital technologies present both opportunities and challenges for today’s copyright holders.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Creative industries are part of everyone’s life. We all listen to music, enjoy films, watch TV programs, go to the theatre and read books. The creators of these works produce the soundtrack for our lives My name is Jean-Michel Jarre. I am an artist, a performer and a creator. And I am here to invite you on a journey about creative industries and copyright. This course is all about the system of copyright and authors’ rights, and its importance to creative industries. Music, paintings, literature and audio-visual works are the substance of our culture and cultural heritage.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds Studies have shown the great economic importance that creative industries bring: they create jobs, and they support economic growth and development.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds All of this depends on one key thing: copyright protection. Copyright is the cornerstone of creative industries. But what is the subject matter of copyright? What is protected exactly? How does copyright work? Why exactly do creative industries depend on copyright? As an artist, I’m deeply involved with technology and excited for our new digital world.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds But, we have to ask: Who gave and still gives the fuel and the reason for this industry to exist and to grow so big? it is thanks to copyright and the legal framework that has been built over centuries. To discuss all these issues, I invite you to join us

Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds for the course Exploring Copyright: History, Culture, Industry. I’m sure that all of those joining the course will be stimulated by the discussions we are inviting learners to participate in. I’m curious to learn about your conclusions.


  • Week 1

    Authorship and modernity

    • Introduction

      Copyright is about promoting creativity and the dissemination of works of art. Paintings, music, theatre, films ... all of these wonderful works that make our lives brighter are linked to copyright.

    • Authors' rights in history

      A historical journey from Renaissance to the French Revolution. A tour through scenarios in which ideas about authors' rights were encouraged.

    • Looking ahead to Week 2

      A summary of the ideas and concepts that we will be discussing in the coming weeks.

  • Week 2

    The idea of a modern author goes global

    • The idea of progress

      The idea of progress called for modernisation and intellectual work was central to this process.

    • International conventions for the protection of intellectual property

      At the end of the 19th century, two international treaties were signed and adopted for the protection of intellectual works.

    • Collective management of rights

      The story of the foundation of the first collective organisation of authors for jointly managing rights.

    • Consolidating views

      A summary of the main topics and concepts debated during this week and a few new ideas to bring forward and use in the coming activities.

  • Week 3

    The war years and mass communication

    • The war and international treaties

      International treaties enter the 20th century facing a major political dilemma between cooperation for sharing knowledge and technology, and isolation to accumulate power.

    • Universal Declaration of Human Rights

      An institutional structure for the maintenance of peace shapes the post-war scenario. Intellectual rights are included in the category of human rights.

    • New rights

      Technology provided authors with new techniques and modes of expression, while at the same time offering new vehicles of dissemination for artistic works.

    • Intellectual work and international commerce

      After its inclusion in the list of human rights, intellectual work becomes a sensitive asset in international commerce.

  • Week 4

    Digital life: New rights or new modes of exploitation?

    • A brief history of digital services

      At the end of the 20th century, the operation of digital services offering copyright works took off. In the 21st century, we see this new environment expanding even faster.

    • Players in the digital market

      Crucial changes occur between the physical, offline world and the digital, online market. New players come onto the scene and new relationships are built.

    • Digital business: who gets what?

      Sharing the economic value produced by online digital business is a complex equation. Where do creators stand in this new economy?

    • From Gutenberg to the Internet

      Let's consolidate what we've learnt, summarise ideas, talk about the future and celebrate!

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Be familiar with the concepts of copyright and authors’ rights.
  • Understand how copyright became a powerful tool in the marketplace for artistic works.
  • Learn about the legal framework for the protection of creative works.
  • Raise awareness of the legal protection system as an essential tool for building a fair trade market for creators.

Who is the course for?

This is an introductory course open to anyone with an interest in history and copyright. It might also be of interest to anyone in the creative and cultural industries.

What do people say about this course?

"Thank you for providing an excellent course. I learned a lot and have a much clearer understanding of the main points surrounding copyright. I feel like I can better explain the history and progression of rights surrounding intellectual property and artistic works to others, and can apply this knowledge to my work as a songwriter and publisher."

"Thank you for a fascinating and very informative course. I have a mountain of new knowledge and, due to the additional links, access to a mountain more (...). Many, many thanks, most enjoyable."

Who will you learn with?

I worked as a musician and music teacher. I became a lawyer in copyrights. I did a Doctorate in International Relations and worked as CEO in a composer’s association. Now I’m an educator again.

Who developed the course?

International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC)

CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, is the world’s leading network of authors’ societies.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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