Embedding copyright literacy: reflections on not being a copyright advisor

I’ll be heading to Llandudno in North Wales on Thursday to give a keynote at CILIP Wales on Friday morning. Chris will be sitting an exam on the same day for his PGDip in copyright law at King’s College London. I’ll be sending him lots of positive vibes and the talk will be drawing on our recent research into librarians’ experience of copyright. We spoke about this research at the CILIP copyright conference and at LILAC last month and it’s been great to share our findings with different audiences. The keynote on Friday is going to be about copyright and education and the role of librarians, thinking about their own knowledge about copyright and what they teach others about it. But the central message is about tackling librarians’ anxieties surrounding copyright that lead then to avoid it, or act in very cautious ways.

Since our last talk I started my new job at City, University of London as Senior Lecturer in Educational Development so I have been feeling out my comfort zone a fair bit recently, as each day brings something new, from attending exam boards to marking student work. I thought it would be useful to share a few thoughts on my reflections after 3 weeks of not being a copyright advisor. However, in fact in many ways despite all the differences, some things haven’t really changed and in the last few weeks I believe even more in embedding copyright education into an institution and teaching about copyright as part of digital and information literacy. I’ve been surprised to find although my job title has changed I am drawing on all my knowledge and experience of being a copyright advisor almost every day.

I’m now teaching on an MA in Academic Practice and my students are in the main lecturers at City in the School of Arts and Social Sciences. I have some lovely departments including Psychology, Music and Journalism. However, I also share my office with the Educational Technologies team. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of times copyright has come up in round about ways! In the last few weeks I’ve discussed:

  • Lecture recording policies and how staff feel about students recording them (sometimes without their permission) and their rights as a performer;
  • The inclusion of third party content in recorded lectures and whether to pause or edit recordings or whether to rely on copyright exceptions;
  • Uploading content to the VLE and ensuring you have permission for resources;
  • Teaching students on a journalism course about copyright, ethics and the use of data from social media;
  • Encouraging open practice and sharing resources across the team (and licensing your own materials under Creative Commons).

A few years ago I said that the way to teach copyright was a bit like feeding vegetables to children, mash it up really small and disguise it! However for someone who is tasked with being the copyright advisor I can see that job title might be a barrier to being invited into a conversation about teaching. I’m not sure yet what the answer is, but rather like information literacy, I think the key is to embed copyright into teacher training. And probably to stop calling it copyright, but think about what teachers are trying to do, which is to share knowledge. Sharing knowledge and resources is probably one of the most common things teachers and learners do however you won’t find it referenced in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. But talking about sharing is a great way of having a conversation about openness, ownership, authorship, giving credit, contracts and permission. All these things are parts of copyright literacy but from a teacher’s perspective when someone says let’s learn about copyright I suspect their heart sinks. I’m going to endeavour not to mention copyright in my new job every day, but if the past few weeks are anything to go by I can see copyright and open practice are important issue dominating many current discussions in higher education, about teaching, learning and research.

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