Avoiding the copyright binaries

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Dinosaur vs Robot T-shirt by Presentsofmind CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

A couple of weeks ago Jane posted a summary of her UKSG editorial urging the information community to move away from seeing copyright as something to be feared. This led me to think about a major aspect of copyright in today’s world – the seemingly intractable conflict between ‘creators’ and ‘users’ of copyright works.

My follow up post explores these issues through a consideration of my own journey from rights holder representative to copyright educator. I suggest that rather than seeing the tensions in copyright law as intractable problems, we should embrace them as a natural part of creative life.

For educators and information professional this means “getting comfortable with ambiguity”. Although it’s natural to want certainty, particularly with something that could be risk and complicated, in many cases this isn’t possible. And reducing that complexity to binary choices is not only unhelpful for individuals, it can create problems for the wider ideological and philosophical debates around copyright.

A few days after my editorial post was published I saw this post from New Zealand based book reviewer Elizabeth Heritage which covers many of the same points. I wanted to share it here because it’s excellently written and thought provoking. My favourite line is:

“it’s okay to have whatever opinion you like about copyright, but it’s not okay to be a d*ck about it.”

Although Jane and I spend quite a lot of time thinking about and promoting open practice and use of copyright exceptions, we are also creators and understand the need for people who make a living out of copyright to protect their creations. As I say in my editorial copyright is:

“experienced in a multiplicity of contradictory and messy ways when it hits real world scenarios. In order to try to make sense of this frustrating complexity it’s easy to take refuge in the reassuring clarity of communities that think and talk the same way you do.”

We believe it’s really important to think inclusively as well as critically about the challenges that copyright presents. Our hope is that copyright literacy can help us address these in a collaborative and constructive way without pretending that the tensions don’t exist. Indeed as I wrote “these tensions are ultimately what copyright consists of”.

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