Copyright: Charming or Chilling? Introducing the Copyright Anxiety Scale

Céline Gareau-Brennan and Amanda Wakaruk
Céline Gareau-Brennan and Amanda Wakaruk (Amanda’s photo taken by Jason Franson)

We were really pleased to receive a guest blog post from Amanda Wakaruk and Celine Gareau-Brennan based on the recent article they had published in the Journal of Copyright in Education and Librarianship.

Amanda Wakaruk is the Copyright and Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She is a member of the Copyright Committee of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA-FCAB) and chairs its Crown copyright working group.

Céline Gareau-Brennan (she/her) is a Business Librarian at the Cameron Sciences, Engineering, & Business Library at the University of Alberta. Through her work in both academic and public libraries, as well as her graduate studies (a combined MBA and MLIS), she developed an awareness and passion for copyright, as well as instruction and research. They write….

We all have our occupational bubbles. As public service librarians working at a large research university in Canada, our copyright literacy bubbles are built around the use of copyright-protected materials for the purposes of education and research. We work with students who are often unaware of — or scared by — copyright law. As a Copyright and Scholarly Communications Librarian, Amanda has at least one consultation each semester with a student who is afraid to copy a single chapter of a book for their personal use. On more than one occasion, the library book in question was a title they had ordered online but not yet received. We also work with faculty members who are stressed by the often overreaching copyright language in their publishing agreements or who are worried about including openly licensed images in their teaching materials. And let’s not forget those administrators whose overabundance of caution can prevent libraries from fulfilling their missions as cultural stewards. Copyright anxiety and chill are a reality of our professional lives. 

During the Canadian Copyright Act review of 2018, these lived experiences seemed to be at odds with narratives that described a very different type of bubble. Claims of mass infringement against the education sector were the main focus of some submissions, which left those of us working in the sector scratching our heads in confusion. 

Was confusion about copyright law and its exceptions to infringement really encouraging mass infringement… or was it discouraging legitimate uses? Was it charming or chilling? Could it be both? 

We wanted to learn more about how people perceive copyright, both within and outside our bubbles. Not finding a suitable tool, we decided to create one. The Copyright Anxiety Scale (CAS) is designed to identify and measure copyright anxiety and, potentially, chill. Legal chill occurs when legitimate actions are discouraged or inhibited by the threat of legal action, real or perceived. Consider the student who is afraid to copy a chapter of a book they had purchased for their own personal research purposes and thus decides not to make a copy — that’s chill. No doubt many students are copying those chapters with some trepidation but still doing so — that’s anxiety. For those who have some awareness of copyright as a concept, copyright anxiety can be a precursor to chill, but is a separate concept. 

We needed a tool that would help us identify and parse these perceptions, emotions, and behavioural responses. Based on our personal observations and professional goals for the CAS project, we developed the following guiding questions:

  • Does copyright anxiety exist and is it a problem?
  • Can a valid and reliable instrument be developed to measure copyright anxiety?
  • What can we learn from the results of this instrument’s initial deployment?

It was a challenge to select self-report questions that would convey the *level* of copyright confidence or anxiety that a respondent might experience. We learned from and leaned on existing point (Likert-type) scales (the Library Anxiety Scale and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale), and subjected our initial question set to multiple rounds of critique and feedback. In the end, we settled on 18 questions (listed in our JCEL article) that asked respondents about their confidence, comfort, concerns, and worries about various copyright concepts and scenarios. 

After securing a small research grant and working our way through our institution’s research ethics protocol, we used Qualtrics to distribute the survey to individuals living in the US and Canada. More than 50.0% of respondents had some postsecondary education, 42.8% were between the ages of 18-34, and a wide range of occupational backgrounds was reported. The 521 respondents were almost evenly divided between the two countries, with 60.1% identifying as female. Interestly, there was no statistically significant variance when results were analysed by country and the variances by gender were minimal. 

What was significant, however, was the level of copyright anxiety experienced by respondents. As the percentages in Table 2 indicate, copyright anxiety is a real and pervasive phenomenon.

Wakaruk, A., Gareau-Brennan, C., & Pietrosanu, M. (2021). Introducing the Copyright Anxiety Scale. Journal of Copyright in Education & Librarianship, 5(1), p13. 

The CAS also includes two questions that can help us better understand how copyright might hamper the creation of new works. The scale asks respondents to describe a time that concerns about copyright hampered or prevented them from doing something, if they have ever had such an experience. There’s also a question about whether or not respondents have avoided activities or projects because of copyright issues. While these questions don’t filter for unlawful activities, the results help us articulate that copyright does act as a barrier. Interestingly, 37.2% of respondents claimed to have avoided or not completed activities or projects because of copyright and 28.0% said they could describe a time when concerns about copyright hampered or prevented them from doing something. Our analysis of the described scenarios indicates that at least three quarters of the respondents who reported potential chill were engaged in activities related to personal or educational uses (that is, not commercial or related to their employment). 

Cross tabulations were run to better understand responses related to copyright literacy, among other things. Surprisingly, the completion of formal instruction did not seem to correlate with confidence when navigating copyright considerations. Specifically, when we looked at respondents who said they worried about copyright there was only a 5 percentage point difference between those who had or had not reported completing formal instruction. There was an even smaller difference between those who had or had not completed instruction (2 percentage points) for those who reported confusion when trying to navigate copyright issues. It is difficult to speculate what this might mean about existing copyright literacy programs because we did not ask respondents to verify their level of knowledge or describe the nature of the instruction they had completed. This is an area that is begging for further research.

Thus, we had the answer to the first and third research questions (above):

  • Yes, copyright anxiety does exist and yes, it does seem to live alongside chill. 
  • The results of the CAS’s initial deployment indicate that chill is pervasive and acting as a barrier to the creation of new works. More research is needed to better understand how copyright literacy might best reduce anxiety and chill.

That leaves our final research question, about validity and reliability. While we both confess to geeking out about data, we know our limits and, for that reason, hired a statistical consultant for the heavy lifting on the statistical side of things. We were thrilled when Matthew Pietrosanu agreed to continue working with us to write the article describing this work, an article which is openly accessible here. If you want details about testing for reliability and validity, check it out. 

This exploratory project was meant to start a conversation and inspire additional research. We have assigned a CC-BY-NC license to the scale itself and frequency tabulations and cross tabulations associated with its initial deployment, in the hopes that this will encourage further dissemination, discussion, and maybe even pop some copyright bubbles. 

We were so pleased that Celine and Amanda agreed to share their insights with us and we look forward to working with them in future to understand more about copyright anxiety and how it can be addressed by copyright literacy. Watch this space for more in the future…

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