Why distance learning in IP has come a long way

Handy accessory for
distance learning
Reading the recently-published details of the LLM and postgraduate diploma distance learning courses in UK, EU and US copyright offered by Kings College London in conjunction with what is described as the Informa Academy, this Kat recalls with no little embarrassment that he was once asked to contribute his input to a distance learning postgraduate and professional programme for the teaching of copyright but declined to do so, since he had such strong reservations as to whether it could ever be made to work. Admittedly that was in the latter years of the last century, but he must report that he has reconsidered the matter and must admit either that he was wrong all along -- or that he was right but that things have subsequently changed.

Much of this Kat’s reticence to support the notion of distance learning was based on his own experiences of teaching copyright and other IP subjects at postgraduate level to students whose first language was not English and who therefore had to grapple with the twin demands of working in a foreign language and dealing with often abstruse legal terminology. Surely these obstacles could not be overcome by distance learning? Yet they have. The quantum leap in computer technology, in particular the internet, means that no student is more than a couple of mouse-clicks away from unlocking the meaning of a legal term of art or discovering the significance of technical vocabulary. Also, rapid improvements in computer translation give students an unprecedented chance to get at least the sense of a paragraph in their own language before tackling the original. A bonus is that EU materials, both legislative and judicial, are generally available in the languages of all the major colonial powers of a bygone era, which gives students the option of studying primary sources in their own tongue.

A second layer of reticence as to the viability of distance learning of copyright was based on the length of time taken in communication between students and tutors. It seems incredible to think that, even in the mid-to-late 1990s, so much of the world was either computer-free or dependent on slow and expensive dial-up online access, thus requiring reliance on the vagaries of terrestrial communication via the postal service ("snail mail"). Now communication between the teachers and the taught, and among each group, can be effectively instantaneous.

A bonus for today’s distance learner is that, just as he or she will have become accustomed to control the speed and manner in which information is sought and delivered online, so too can that student control the speed at which distance learning takes place. As the marketing literature for this distance learning programme states: “You can set the pace at which you learn and decide when, where and how long you want to study for” — a great advantage for those who are studying while holding down a job or shouldering domestic commitments.

Out of all the IP subjects on offer, copyright and trade marks offer another advantage — particularly in Europe. This is the fact that they both more or less started again in 1996 (the year of the WIPO “internet treaties”, the opening of the doors of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and the coming into force of the Madrid Protocol). This means that the vast majority of primary material and, necessarily, scholarly and professional literature based on that material, has been written within the past 15 years or so. It therefore requires less personal face-to-face input to steer puzzled students in the right direction when faced with technologies and social and commercial phenomena with which they have little or no familiarity.

Regarding the Kings/Informa offering which prompted this post, you can get all the details of the programme, the faculty and registration here. The IPKat notes that several of his friends are participating as faculty in the programme, which speaks volumes for its credibility — though personally he’d prefer to have them all in the same room at the same time for some lively and controversial debate rather than cross swords with them from a distance ...
Why distance learning in IP has come a long way Why distance learning in IP has come a long way Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, May 24, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. Thanks for this as I am thinking about such a course at present, I am working and can't attend during normal teaching hours.

    Clearly, this course impressed - is there any chance of having readers and commentators providing their experience and opinions of similar IP courses in the UK?

    It would be very informative, although I realise it is unlikely to be definitive...

  2. I have really enjoyed the Queen Mary distance learning LLM in Computer and Communications Law. There is little for me to criticise - and those who know me will know that is quite an endorsement.

    It is not a pure IP course, though it can cover quite a bit of IP if you let it. I found the most interesting module was one on media (happily at the time the Leveson opened) - perhaps because I'd never engaged with the PCC (that's Press Complaints Commission in this context) process before.

    Its a part-time, distance learning course, so really good for fitting in with a busy work schedule. "Meeting" at least electronically fellow students from all over the world is also fun. There is an annual weekend away at Cumberland Lodge which is delightful and a real chance to meet people in person.


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