Tied up in copyright knots? The Snakes and Ladders OER for basic copyright training

Ruth Mallalieu

Ruth Mallalieu (@MallaRuth) is a librarian based in the UK who specialises in copyright and intellectual property services. She has worked in Higher Education for a decade, but started her career in public libraries. Her interest in copyright was piqued after observing how many staff were afraid of copyright issues. Turning copyright into an opportunity, and empowering users to critically assess their use of material, to understand their rights and to make an informed choice about use, is a core part of her current role as Scholarly Communications Licensing Manager. She started an LLM in Intellectual Property Law last year. Outside of work she enjoys music, playing the clarinet and recorders, and staying active in the outdoors – cycling, walking, and circuits. She sits on two national bodies who advise on copyright and licensing matters, and takes part in lobbying activity, writing reports, and providing advice and endorsement for current sector initiatives. We’re delighted that Ruth is sharing her copyright educational resource, showcased at Icepops, via our website. 

I got a new job as a copyright adviser the week after the biggest changes to UK copyright law – since the inception of the 1988 Act – came into force. What a time! There was a great deal of optimism because the new exceptions gave more freedom and flexibility. However, there was confusion, too, along with a smidgen of sheer terror! In UK copyright law we have very narrowly defined exceptions which are simultaneously open to some ‘creative’ interpretation. The immediate task at hand was to assess the number and scale of the changes; the long-term work of interpreting and applying to real-world scenarios continues to this day.


Luckily for me, the Copyseek community hosted a free training and networking event very soon after I started. It was at this that I first heard about the Snakes and Ladders game, created by Annette Moore. It was free to reuse and tweak, and made copyright education simple and fun. It soon became an indispensable tool in my arsenal!


Fast-forward three years, and I’d started another new post. This time my needs, and the needs of my users, were different. I wanted to delve deeper into copyright scenarios, update our collective knowledge of exceptions, and tie all of this into a more holistic overview of copyright legislation, licensing, and open resources. I returned to the trusty game and thoroughly overhauled all the cards. This bit took some time, and I can thoroughly appreciate the work that came into creating the original game as a result! However, the effort has paid off in dividends: after the first session playing the game with academic and support staff, I’d received three requests to either reuse the game, or to go play it in departments.


Annette’s game was originally available on Jorum; this is sadly no longer with us. After my brilliant experiences using it, I decided to take it (with Annette’s blessing) to the inaugural ICEPOPS conference. We discussed ways here to make it available to the community once more, and Jane and Chris have kindly offered to host the files.


In summary: it is a fantastically simple yet endlessly customisable game that everybody knows, can be played in couples or larger groups, and takes around 30 minutes. The scenarios and the slightly competitive element bring it to life, get people talking, and, most importantly, make copyright fun! So please: use them! Share your versions and your feedback. And, a huge thank you to Annette Moore for creating the original brilliant game.

Copyright Snakes and Ladders is available to download in a zip file (including the board, cards and full instructions) from here

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