Copyright Dough: a game to teach, and bring discussion, about copyright licences and exceptions

Hannah Pyman, Information Literacy Coordinator at the University of Essex

Today’s guest blog post is from Hannah Pyman who is an Information Literacy Co-ordinator at the University of Essex. Within this role, she specialises in scholarly communication and research support. Having only been in this newly developed role since September 2019, Hannah is working with her colleagues to better establish how information literacy and scholarly communication work together in practice. Copyright Dough is a clear example of this, illustrating how information literacy techniques can be used to promote a broader understanding of a complex area of scholarly communication. Hannah also graduated from the University of Sheffield in January 2020 with an MA in Library and Information Services Management.

While we all see copyright as a topic of great excitement(!), it’s no secret that sometimes it can be difficult to get others to see the same. My colleague Katrine Sundsbo and I therefore took it upon ourselves to develop a new game to help engage users in the joys of copyright licences and exceptions. However, we were keen to ensure that every participant still went away from the game sessions having learnt a helpful amount about the sometimes-complicated world of copyright. Our other criteria was that the game could be shared amongst the community, as open education is something we are keen to pursue. So with those criteria in mind, Copyright Dough was born.

What is Copyright Dough?

Copyright Dough is an interactive game that gives participants a chance to put themselves in the position of different stakeholders. Within the game, we have termed these stakeholder roles as ‘creators’, ‘researchers’, ‘teachers’, and ‘students’. Each player begins the game by being given a card with one of these roles, along with some light-hearted information about their role’s character to help inspire them later (it is safe to say that we had a great time coming up with a whole range of guilty pleasures!).

Players are then given a task card, which explains two tasks to carry out within the game. The first task is always to create a play dough model, yet while some players are given full creative freedom with their models, others are tasked with either creating a model inspired by another player’s, or creating an exact copy (the success of how “exact” this is depends upon the player’s creative skills!).

Once the models have been created, the players are given a licence card that gives their model a licence. Players also have an information sheet each, explaining all of the licences, and giving some information on copyright exceptions. At this stage, the players then take turns to complete their second task, which will include explaining their licence, and how they intend to use their creation. This varies between roles, and can include being used within a published textbook, in an open access journal article, in a dissertation, and many more. As each player explains this, the group vote whether they think this use is ‘ok’ or ‘not ok’ according to copyright licences and exceptions.

This stage of the game generates discussion between the players. As individuals explain their views, it becomes clear that there is often an element of “it depends” in copyright decisions. The varied roles within the game also allow the players to put themselves in the shoes of different stakeholders, and highlight that the context of use often changes the outcome of the decision.

Players therefore come to better realise the complexities of copyright, and appreciate that in understanding copyright, it can be an enabler of creativity, not a restriction. This discussion all takes place within a light-hearted, creative context, providing a memorable experience for participants, and giving facilitators an engaging tool to encourage users to attend sessions based on copyright literacy.

How can I run Copyright Dough?

While you will need to purchase some play dough to run Copyright Dough, all of the other resources are free to download via Figshare. We have also included some top tips for running the game, and would love to hear from you how you get on!

So far, we have successfully run the game with early career researchers, professional services staff, and students. The game has given those with little or no knowledge of copyright licences and exceptions a great introduction to the area, and has also shown the importance of having a basic understanding of these issues throughout different stages of an academic career. Furthermore, in encouraging participants to take some of the information sheets away with them after the sessions, players gain some physical resources to consult at a later date. With the resources also all being freely available online, players don’t have to worry about losing any physical materials.

The game has also proven to be very helpful for educating library staff members about copyright. Copyright is increasingly relevant to all members of a library team, and therefore engaging library staff becomes just as important as engaging our users. With more staff members feeling confident to discuss copyright with students and researchers alike, copyright becomes less of a mystery!

So please do feel free to use our resources with whomever you think will benefit from this interactive, hands-on session. We have found it to be truly beneficial for generating conversation around copyright, and would love to know whether others find the same. In the meantime, we hope to see some of you at the LILAC Conference in April, and after then maybe we can take Copyright Dough to other institutions or conferences to spread the fun!


  1. This looks like a fantastic resource. Can I ask as a minimum how much time is required to run the game?


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