Copyright and online learning in a time of crisis

ALT Summer Summit

We’re looking forward to presenting at the ALT Summer Summit later this month. Our session will outline how we’ve been supporting the higher education community with copyright and online learning issues through a series of ALT-hosted webinars which we began in March 2020 following the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and have been running almost on a weekly basis ever since. We will be joined by Martin Hawskey from ALT who has been kindly hosting most the sessions. During the webinars we have stuck to our mission of making copyright fun, engaging and empowering and in addition to dealing with some pretty meaty copyright issues, we’ve been trying to keep people’s spirits up during these difficult months. The webinars therefore always start and finish with a lighter or amusing item as well as having a theme tune and jingles. The chat is mostly about copyright and online learning, but we love talking about the weather as well as we straying onto Chris’s obsession with guitars, Jane’s gardening antics, or Jane, Martin and Chris’s cycling adventures (separate and socially distanced of course).

The shift to online learning affected lecturers, learning technologists and librarians in different ways. As active members of a community committed to copyright education, our session will be an opportunity to reflect on the leadership role we played supporting our colleagues to build knowledge and confidence and liaise with rights holders to find solutions. We will also reflect on the role that technology has played in bringing the community together at a time of crisis to share their stories, and hopefully cheer people up a little.

As the owners of the LIS-Copyseek discussion list for copyright queries in HE, and co-founders of we noted a number of questions coming from the community at the start of the crisis. We wrote a blog post, to try to answer some of these questions, (Morrison and Secker, 2020) reminding the community that both licences and exceptions offered ways of making content legally available online. We drew attention to Chris’s masters research into educational copyright exceptions (Morrison, 2018) and highlighted the importance of using open resources where possible as well as existing, institutionally-licensed digital resources. However, it became clear that the situation was changing rapidly and that there was much more to discuss, so we approached ALT to host a webinar for us to support the community. The first webinar was on 20th March and this led to a series of weekly webinars, attended at times by over 100 participants.

Copyright and online learning has always been a relatively niche topic as we well know, as authors of the book Copyright and E-learning: a guide for practitioners (Secker and Morrison, 2016). However, the importance of the issue has been brought sharply into focus during the crisis as institutions have questions about the implications of shifting all sorts of teaching online. One topic currently taxing many institutions who teach Film Studies is how to show film and video content online.  But we thought it was also important to highlight the issue to seniors managers and policy makers in HE and had a blog post published in July on WonkHE.

Our session at the Summit will outline some of the issues that have been concerning the community during the crisis, and will outline our approach to supporting the community using the webinar series, the discussion list and our blog. Discussion of copyright is a sensitive topic, and LIS-Copyseek is a closed list where members must agree to a set of community rules before they are allowed to join. Prior to the crisis, the use of the list and periodic events which brought people together provided community members with a safe space. However, a key difference with the webinar series was that most of them were open to all, recorded and made available freely after the event. This session will therefore reflect on the contribution of representatives from the rights holder community, and the balance that needed to be struck between collaboration, transparency and confidentiality. We also hope to inject an element of fun into the session, as with the webinar series, so who knows where it might take us.

Session structure

We’ll start by presenting an overview of our approach to running the webinar series and some of the more challenging copyright concerns that the community had during the crisis. We will then reflect on the following questions:

  • What did we try and do and what role did technology (and the ALT webinars play) in supporting the community?
  • What impact did our actions have on staff levels of knowledge and confidence at this time? Were we successful? What could we have done differently?
  • Was copyright really a barrier preventing teachers getting access to content during this crisis?
  • What did we learn from these experiences and does this mean for the future of the copyright community as a closed or open group?

We will finish with a summary of the key points and identify some next steps that the HE copyright and learning technology communities plan to take to build on the work done to date. We hope you will join us at our session at the ALT Summer Summit and be part of this conversation!


Morrison, C. (2018). Illustration for Instruction and the UK Higher Education Sector: Perceptions of risk and sources of authority. Masters dissertation, King’s College London.

Morrison, C. and Secker, J. (2020, March 18). Copyright, Fair Dealing and Online Teaching at a Time of Crisis, available at

Secker J and Morrison C. (2016) Copyright and E-learning: a guide for practitioners. Facet Publishing: London. Note several chapters are available on open access including: Chapter 6, Chapters 1 and 3.

This post was originally posted on the ALT Blog.

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