Copyright literacy by Lesley Ellen Harris

We have been following the work of Lesley Ellen Harris for quite a number of years and included her website in the resources section of our book Copyright and E-learning. We were delighted that Lesley agreed to write this blog post for us about her work. Lesley is the CEO of She is a copyright consultant, published author, copyright blogger and educator. She is an expert in navigating copyright issues in today’s modern world. Her areas of concentration include U.S. and Canadian copyright law, international copyright law, and licensing digital content. She tells us about her interest in copyright and the recent in-depth guide to Copyright Literacy she published on her website recently ….

When I began my career in copyright law some decades ago, I hadn’t even heard of the term “copyright literacy.” I had a law degree and an interest in this (as yet unknown to me) up-and-coming area of the law, mostly due to a personal interest in writing, a lifelong love. My writing style (fiction and nonfiction) was distinctly straightforward. Little did I know that my two interests would merge, and I’d make a career in copyright literacy.

Through writing ten books for non-lawyers on copyright and licensing, consulting, speaking, and teaching, in retrospect I realize I’ve built my career around my passion for promoting copyright literacy. And I did most of this before I was familiar with the term copyright literacy.

What I’ve learned through each of my copyright positions — such as working on government policy for copyright reform, practicing law, and blogging about copyright for 21 years, to name a few — is that there’s a distinct and ongoing need for explaining copyright law in plain English.

The law is complex and complicated, and its interpretation depends on the circumstances in any particular situation. And, there never seems to be enough information, free or paid, for the broad audience of individuals and organizations that need to assess their copyright risks and stay copyright compliant. In addition, these same individuals and organizations need to make others aware of copyright law and educate them on how to avoid copyright infringement.

Until relatively recently, I described what I did as copyright education, helping non-lawyers who apply copyright law and are responsible for compliance in their daily work (e.g., librarians, publishers, archivists and more). This compliance includes making their colleagues, clients, faculty and even the public aware of copyright law. I now realize that copyright is a mainstream issue and understanding it is a life skill, as I discuss in my article for WIPO, “Understanding Copyright — A Life Skill.” I now approach my work through the lens of copyright literacy.

In addition to my teaching, I write blog articles to help others. More recently, I reviewed all of the short articles I had written about copyright literacy and pulled them together into “An In-Depth Guide to Copyright Literacy.” The Guide is divided into:

  1. What Is Copyright Literacy?
  2. Copyright as a Life Skill
  3. Copyright Literacy in the Library
  4. Tips for Effective Copyright Education
  5. Case Study: Copyright Awareness Day

It includes my own understanding and ponderings about copyright literacy, as well as definitions from IFLA and from Chris and Jane.

I’ve also had a lot of fun creating the course Developing a Copyright Education Strategy in which I provide 21 Simple Ideas to Promote Copyright Literacy in Your Library or Organization. My copyright literacy program, the Copyright Leadership Certificate, has attracted students from countries such as the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, France and Denmark.

In addition, I developed a blended learning Certificate in Copyright Management for the Special Libraries Association and taught it for eight years. There is more information about my work in my full bio.

We’re really pleased to be able to connect with like-minded professionals like Lesley around the world who are working in the same field. Developing an understanding about copyright literacy internationally is something we have been working on since undertaking the Copyright Literacy survey. We are holding a meeting on the 27th June in Edinburgh (the day after Icepops) to talk further about how we can share good practice and build up this network and wrote a post about this earlier this week.  


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