On peril, privilege and the copyright literacy UK tour

Dragon by T. Cowett licensed under CC-BY https://flic.kr/p/5TJKuF

It’s been a busy couple of week’s for us at UK Copyright Literacy Central. We’ve been writing up our research on librarians’ experiences of copyright for a journal article, editing a book chapter for the Routledge Companion for Media Education, Copyright and Fair Use, and working on a few presentations and proposals for up coming events. Yesterday we delivered a webinar for the European University Institute in Florence for a group of researchers and today we’re off to the University of Manchester to run a session as part of their PGCert module on Open Knowledge in Higher Education. We’ve developed a new workshop for academics to help them see the importance of copyright at various stages in their career, inspired in part by our new game the Publishing Trap.

We were also delighted to both be asked to write and editorial for UKSG’s eNews publication. My editorial on Peril and Privilege and why we all need copyright literacy is available already, and Chris’s is due to be published later today [Update – It’s now available here]. He’ll be responding to my points, writing about the creative tensions that copyright leads to, and how we work to overcome what might be seen as irreconcilable differences between rightsholders and the education community.

But back to peril (and if you’re wondering why I’ve included a picture of a dragon above see last week’s guest post from Mark Summers), I include some points from my editorial below:

‘Copyright is a topic librarians ignore at their peril’ was the headline from the December 2016 issue of CILIP Update as part of a review of two recent books on copyright for librarians by copyright greats in the library world and fellow colleagues on the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) committee Paul Pedley and Tim Padfield. Don’t get me wrong, these are incredibly important books, but ‘peril’ I found myself wondering, what sort of peril? I think copyright is important, it is after all what I spend half my job working on, but I wish headlines like this were not common in library literature. Of course copyright matters, but the idea that ignoring it will bring about peril is part of the problem with librarians’ love / hate relationship with copyright. We need to stop viewing it as something to be feared or that might get us into trouble.

I guess that was my key point, copyright is not a peril, yes it’s about risk, but risk can be managed and people should be supported and encouraged so they don’t do what many of us do when we don’t like something; avoid it! I went on (for those who know me, I can do that!):

Copyright is a subject that has fascinated me for most of my professional career. It would be fair to say that I fell into copyright work, but it’s become a deep relationship that for me lies at the heart of what librarians and information professionals stand for. I would be lying if I said I spent my time at library school reading up on copyright laws and studying it endlessly. Librarianship appealed to me because of the idea that I could help people get access to knowledge and information. This is still what still excites me about the profession; information and knowledge gives people choices, it empowers them, but it’s not just about information in a vacuum, it’s the ability to know how to use, analyse and make sense of information, but also to question what else is out there, what information hasn’t been found? Knowing how researchers engage with information and use it to underpin their work is really important. And when some information is behind a pay wall or collections are not online, copyright issues can potentially limit how people can use information. This for me is why information literacy is my real passion but, also why copyright issues and specifically copyright literacy, matters as much.

So it’s not really about copyright for me, it’s about access to information really, but anything that gets in the way of that, for me, needs to be tackled head on, as I said:

…. I became curious about why others seemed to avoid copyright. This led me and Chris to first survey and then carry out interviews with librarians to find out more about their professional experiences of copyright. The idea that many colleagues shy away from this topic and are fearful of it was worthy of investigation. We are finding out some pretty interesting things, that go beyond the simple idea that copyright is the law, and getting it wrong might land you in trouble. There seems to be something inherent in copyright that leads many librarians to be ideologically opposed to it. Is this because copyright laws are seen as restrictive, all powerful and largely about protecting the rights of big business, rather than the ordinary library user? We don’t know yet, however, I think the view that copyright restricts what you can do with information is why librarians need copyright literacy. In particular they need to be clear about copyright exceptions, as there are a whole series of them that relate specifically to activities librarians are permitted to do, from copying for preservation purposes and making accessible copies, to operating inter-lending services. We have a lot of privileges, and rather like librarians who champion for freedom of speech or who are anti-censorship, librarians need to be interested in copyright for political reasons.

So now we get to the heart of it, it’s political, it really matters, and I end my editorial by saying:

I recognise that copyright issues can be difficult and librarians sometimes feel personally responsible, however we need shift our focus back onto our underlying mission. It’s not us that matter! It’s about the communities and the people that we support and how they learn and develop. ….Librarians have an important role as copyright educators and champions of freedom, but they do not need to fear copyright, they need to embrace it as part of the wider information literacy initiatives they offer, to support and empower others.

So there you have it! I bet you can’t wait to see how Chris responds!

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