9 things every university administrator needs to know about copyright

Front cover of AUA copyright guideThe Association of University Administrators (AUA) have just published a good practice guide to copyright written by me and Jane. Our intention with the guide was to avoid plunging straight into the technical explanations of how copyright works and instead start off with a conversational explanation of the way in which copyright is experienced in educational establishments. We then thought it would work if we followed this with an explanation of the practical steps that professional services staff can take to do the right thing in what can sometimes be a confusing and worrying environment.

The whole document can be read online here, and downloaded by AUA members here, but this blog post provides a brief summary of the 9 things we think every university administrator (and in fact anyone who works with copyright material) should know about copyright:

1. It covers all fixed, original expressions of human knowledge and creativity for a limited time.

In this section we cover a few basics about what copyright is and what it covers but we don’t go into all the details of different types of work and their relative duration.

2. It exists on the internet

Here we talk about the change in the information environment that has led to copyright being an issue that touches almost everyone. We clarify that although it might be seen as the wild west copyright certainly does apply to online content.

3. Copyright governs certain types of ‘usage’ of copyright works

This is our way of describing the ‘restricted acts’ (e.g. copying, communicating to the public etc) in an empowering way that attempts to avoid people thinking copyright is fundamentally about stopping people doing things.

4. There is stuff you can use without asking for permission

Here we frame a number of things – blanket licences, primary resource licences, Creative Commons licences and statutory exceptions – as all things that administrators can use without having to take on significant rights clearance work. Although this can be a contentious area, we hope that this way of considering copyright material is the most helpful way for non-experts to think about it.

5. All copyright works are equal in the eyes of the law, but some are more equal than others

This is our way of describing the pragmatic value judgements that people need to make about copyright issues. Copyright is a powerful tool partly because it protects every expression that is fixed, original and creative. However when it comes to the real world not everything is created with the same intentions or levels of labour or resource. We explain why it is that questions about copyright often have the answer ‘it depends’.

6. The biggest risk is to reputation, but money still talks

We talk here about reputational risk and explain how that actually works in practice. For example having to publish an apology to a rights holder for infringing copyright on your website’s homepage is actually something establishments will really want to avoid.

7. There is no such thing as zero risk, but you can get pretty close if you think about what you’re doing.

Here we talk about what risk management is and how it applies to copyright in an educational context. We advocate making full use of licences that institutions hold as well as being clear and confident when relying on exceptions.

8. Act responsibly

This is our plea for people to use common sense when dealing with copyright material. We think that although copyright issues can become complicated, good manners and empathy will go a long way towards doing the right thing.

9. You are not alone…

And finally we celebrate the strong community of copyright support professionals in the UK higher education sector and advocate for the investment in copyright specialists who can help provide advice and develop helpful policies and materials.

We hope you find these points useful. If you have any comments about the guide and the ideas in it we’d be very happy to hear from you.

Chris and Jane

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