The School Librarian and Copyright

Emily Stannard (@CopyrightGirl) is a former university copyright officer, who is now school librarian at the independent boarding school, Bradfield College. She agreed to write a guest post for us on her transition into the world of school libraries and the types of copyright issues she now deal with. Emily is an experienced copyright trainer and sits on the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA). 

I decided to apply for a library position in a local independent school after my role within the university morphed from full-time copyright officer to managing business continuity (essentially disaster recovery). I spent a year re-training as a business continuity officer but each step took me further away from copyright and my professional training as a librarian, and I realised that I was not comfortable with that. Having had no previous experience in school libraries whatsoever, I was amazed when Bradfield College offered me the position. Now, almost three years later, I continue to be amazed at the pace of school life. A school is a remarkably different place from a university; when you work in a school, you are plunged headlong into a hectic world of timetables, sport, extracurricular activities, pastoral duties and meetings. It is a veritable whirlwind of last minute activity where time is the most valuable commodity and there is precious little of it. My to-do list seems endless, mostly because getting the right people together to put plans into action is nigh on impossible during term. Then, as soon as term ends, everyone melts away like snow and avoids contact with one another until term resumes and we have to find another gear to catapult us out of holiday mode. Anyone who follows the ICT with Mr P Facebook feed will be able to relate – it is mostly about teachers but as librarians we quickly get sucked into the same world. As an independent school librarian at a boarding school I know that some of the challenges I experience are different from my state school counterparts, but we are all pushed for resources (particularly time) in one way or another, as are the teachers we work with.

So, where does copyright factor in my role? Well, to be honest, I suspect many of my colleagues working in schools will say the same as me: copyright is practically at the bottom of the list of our priorities. There is so much to be done and so little time in which to do it that unless we as librarians are able to push copyright as being more important than exam results, league tables or sporting prowess, it is not something that senior management consider significant enough to worry about. As opposed to a university with a department for compliance, a school has a small senior management team concerned with finances, teaching and learning, pastoral care and extra curricular activities, and one person designated to deal with health and safety / risk management. This means that time is spent investing in the school’s strategy/vision whilst ensuring that capital projects are running on time and pupils are kept as safe as possible. Given that copyright infringement does not result in death or parental complaints, it is a fairly low priority. That being said, schools do subscribe to large educational licences from collecting societies such as the Educational Recording Agency and the Copyright Licensing Agency to ensure that they can do the basic tasks such as recording from the TV and radio and making multiple copies of worksheets and so on. The awareness of the risk is obviously there but is rarely thought about by staff and management. But as librarians we must not get demoralised and must seek opportunities to educate about copyright wherever we see opportunities. This may be in the context of academic conduct/plagiarism, or as part of the creative arts curriculum, or perhaps even presenting copyright issues in an assembly.

When copyright questions do arise, they tend to be about issues such as film/video, copying of worksheets, ownership of copyright and further use, and images. Some examples of questions which come up are:

Q: Please can the Library add a film to our video management platform so that we can show it in class? (NB film has not yet aired on terrestrial TV)

A: No. Solution – teacher borrowed the DVD to show to the class as no licence is required for use of films in a lesson.

Q: Can I make a copy of one worksheet from a book of commercially published worksheets which says that no part of this book may be copied?

A: Yes as the CLA licence allows copying of up to 5% of a book and making multiple copies for the class.

Q: We have an author coming in to give an interactive workshop on the creative process. We would like to video this and prepare a book of the story which will be created by the author plus members of the audience. The author is being paid by us so surely we own the copyright as the school owns the copyright in teachers’ work?

A: An employer automatically owns the copyright to anything their employees create during the course of their business, but does not own someone outside the organisation’s copyright even if they are being paid for it unless there is a contract in place stating as much. The author needs to agree in writing (an email will do) that he/she is happy for you to do what you are going to do, but you may not necessarily be able to stop them using some or all of that material in her work.

Q: Design & Technology pupils want to print out watermarked images for their coursework – the images are used as a template tool and the finished products are very different from the original. Copies of the watermarked images are kept in their coursework books. Are we as an institution only liable if we openly encourage students to use stock images? If a student used a Getty image on their coursework and we had told them not to do this (and had a record of this lesson), would we be fined or would it be the responsibility of the child/parent?

A: The use of stock images and other copyright works for coursework is covered by what is known as the ‘examination’ exception (illustration for instruction). However – when that purpose changes, e.g. works are then displayed online, that’s when the problems start. In terms of liability, the organisation is ultimately liable, not the parents.

One of the biggest challenges for schools is audio books, which are sold either on CD or via an audiobook platform (often prohibitively expensive for school libraries). Libraries like to offer their own collections of audio books but as time goes by CD drives have become obsolete and MP3s are the only way that audio is consumed. Librarians are desperate to convert CDs to MP3 format but are prohibited by copyright law as one can only copy for preservation purposes if a copy is not available to purchase commercially. There is currently no rights management agency responsible for audio books, and contacting individual publishers would take too long for school librarians. A further problem exists with regards to storage; if permission was given, server space is often at a premium in schools and so MP3s may not be able to be stored. For now it seems the only solution is to purchase personal CD players for pupils to listen to audio books or to work with local public libraries’ OverDrive platform. However, the collection of teen fiction in audio format varies widely between local authorities. It may be worth investigating other solutions such as LibriVox or SYNC – it is mostly the classics and other public domain works which are available but there are several options to try.

I can now empathise with colleagues working in school libraries – resources are so limited yet there are some amazing and creative things being done by school librarians up and down the country. The problem we have is that with all our priorities divided between information skills teaching, stimulating reading for pleasure, managing the library management system, tutoring pupils, participating in meetings about exam results, managing the library stock and staff, providing CPD training on various websites, running referencing for entire year groups (which must happen in small groups owing to time and the fact that not everyone can get together on the same days), taking assemblies on books and reading, preparing competitions for pupils, planning ahead for challenging and interesting talks/events, finding tasks for library volunteers and creating eye catching and interesting displays, not to mention using social media to market the library, copyright lingers on the back burner, being one of those tasks to which all of us would love to devote some time but which gets buried by other priorities which vie for our time. For those of you who do manage to get a spare five minutes, there are a number of excellent sites which provide information about copyright: CopyrightUser is a non-biased website providing detailed information on each exception in copyright; Copyright & Schools is a nicely laid out website by the Copyright Licensing Agency answering questions teachers and librarians may have (the caveat is that it is a licensing site and so will not be promoting legal copyright exceptions); and last but not least, the BBC have a nice, user-friendly site on copyright called ‘Copyright Aware’.


  1. Very interesting, I see links with my job as a language centre librarian. (200 languages, multilingual material and a VLE… and perhaps not enough time as a one-person library to do as much as I wish on this) Thank you for the links provided, especially the BBC one.


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