Reflections on Becoming a Copyright Specialist

Deborah Ferns cycling
Deborah Ferns – copyright specialist and keen cyclist

This post is written by Deborah Ferns the Copyright & Information Compliance Officer at University of Strathclyde where she has worked since June 2018. A major part of her role involves communicating the importance of copyright to staff and students in an accessible way and ensuring that copyright law doesn’t become a barrier to teaching, learning and research. 

Prior to her current role Deborah worked in Research & Enterprise Services at Heriot-Watt University as Contracts Officer for the Oil & Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC) after 3 years working for JISC Legal, a project hosted at Strathclyde. The role at JISC Legal was where she developed an interest in copyright law and studied part time at Strathclyde for an LLM in Internet Law and Policy. Before working in the Higher Education sector Deborah spent a short time running her own cake business and more than a decade working in commercial contracts in the biotechnology and telecoms software industries. Deborah is also an ALT CoOL SIG Officer. Deborah reports on the recent webinar on ”Becoming a Copyright Specialist.’ You can access a recording of this event. Deborah tells us….

ALT CoOL SIG’s most recent Friday webinar (Webinar 44) was on the topic of ‘Becoming A Copyright Specialist’ and featured presentations from Kate Vasili, Middlesex University, Hannah Pyman, University of Essex and Simon Cox, University of West of England. The event led me to reflect on my own journey to copyright and common threads shared by the speakers and others within our Community of Practice regardless of the stage of their  careers.

Image of  copyright journey
Slide from Kate Vasili’s ‘accidental’ copyright journey

Kate Vasili’s description of ‘an accidental journey’ resonated with me having started my career with a law degree and progressing into the HE sector and copyright law via commercial contracts and a foray into cake baking.

Image of Simon Cox
Simon Cox’s ‘anti-expert’ journey – from cricket to copyright

The threads which tie us together or shared qualities of Copyright Specialists which Simon mentioned are curiosity – a willingness to ask questions and to learn – and an ability to explain complex stuff in a simple way.  Being able to strike the balance between what staff and students need to know and what they don’t is key to delivering copyright literacy training and guidance which provides users with the confidence to make decisions but to know where to come for help if they aren’t sure. 

Hannah Pyman’s journey into copyright

The speakers at this event highlighted a range of resources and support that have helped them to become Specialists many of which reflect my own experience and are included in the  UK Copyright Education & Training resources : COOL SIG BLOG (  compiled and published by ALT CoOL SIG. 

Essential elements of the Copyright Specialist’s toolbox are:

This is supplemented by the invaluable support from Communities of Practice like ALT CoOL SIG and the JISC mail list LIS-Copyseek.  I constantly draw on best practice from other institutions shared on these forum both when answering enquiries or developing guidance  as well as using games others have developed such as Copyright Dough ( and Copyright the Card Game – UK Copyright Literacy  to enhance the programme of copyright literacy at my institution.  

We are grateful to Deborah for her post on this webinar, and to the contributions from Kate, Hannah and Simon. You can access the Recording of Webinar 44 from the ALT YouTube channel.

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