Copyright and the move towards Open Content

My son has spent several days taking pictures and making videos of his hamsters. He finally put these on his school home page at Fronter and showed it to me. He wrote some interesting stories about his hamsters together with those lovely pictures of them. I believe that other kids would love them. It was a pity that the Fronter doesnt support videos at the moment so he had to upload all the video clips to Youtube and put a link on his webpage. What was most interesting to me was a footnote under the pictures: œPlease feel free to copy it, please dont claim these are your own hamsters. When he realised that I was reading this, he was serious and asked œthis is copyright, isnt it?

Copyright was high on the agenda of the recent JISC RePRODUCE (Re-purposing & Re-use of Digital University-Level Content and Evaluation) programme meeting. More than 20 people from different projects which were funded to develop and run high quality technology enhanced courses using reused and repurposed learning materials sourced externally to their institution gathered together. Liam Earney from the CASPER project (Copyright Advice and Support Project for Electronic Resources) gave a presentation on updates and reflections from the project and how CASPER could help the RePRODUCE projects to engage with all of the issues related to IPR and copyright. The questions and issues in relation to copyright that were raised and discussed included:

  1. Lack of awareness of copyright issues among academics. I cant say for sure, but certainly in my experience most academics are willing to share their work with colleagues within or outside their own institutions but most of them are not clear about what they can or cannot do on third party copyrights. Some are not willing to devote scarce time and resources to obtain permission to use the work of others.
  2. Risk of using unauthorised materials for electronic course materials. Some projects reported they have incorporated copyrighted third-party content in creating the course materials for using within the university. However, if putting these courses on the internet for repurposing and reusing in public, do they have to find ˜clean versions, free of copyrighted elements which are often difficult and expensive? What are the risks that institutions face for using third party copyright materials?
  3. Guidance for institutions on how to handle IPR and copyright for digital teaching materials. Few institutions have developed a clear and explicit policy on IPR management and copyright issues. It was agreed that institutions should set policy on IPR and copyrights as a matter of urgency.

As Helen Beetham from JISC pointed out at the project self-evaluation session on the RePRODUCE programme meeting, it is not only about what contents have been re-purposed and re-used by each project but also what lessons we can draw from these projects. Inevitably, copyright plays a major part in the process of provision open access to publication and teaching and learning resources.

Access to Research Resources for Teachers Space (ARRTs) project

Before joining JISC CETIS I worked on a repository project – ARRTs (Access to Research Resources for Teachers Space) for the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland. The project was to set up a repository to make relevant research publications available to educational professionals “at the touch of a button” (it was initially funded for 9 months then extended to 18 months). As a research officer, two thirds of my time was involved in dealing with issues of copyright and IPR. Although this repository was focused on educational research related publications rather than teaching and learning materials, I think the approaches, processes and issues we have to deal with on IPR and copyright would be similar. Here is a brief summary of my experience on getting permission for mounting third-party copyright publications and students theses onto the repository.

  1. Permissions from funding bodies and organisations: At the beginning, the project team sent letters to 40 funding bodies and organisations in Northern Ireland (including relevant organisations from other parts of the UK) which have funded educational research projects and held the copyright of these publications. After several follow-up letters and many telephone discussions, we were finally granted permissions from more than 35 organisations.
  2. Permission from individual academics: After gaining permissions from funding bodies, we then sent a standardised copyright clearance letter to individual authors seeking permission to mount their reports and papers onto ARRTs repository. It was a nice surprise to find that of the 200+ academics we contacted all granted permissions to publish their work onto the repository.
  3. Permissions from Journals: We contacted ten publishers (when authors sent in their paper wishing to upload them onto the repository but permission had to be sought from the journals). Regrettably, we received a positive response from only one journal granting us permission to upload any paper we wished onto the repository.
  4. Permissions from institutions: In addition to research reports and academic papers, the project was designed to include all PhD and Masters theses in the Education departments of the four local institutions onto the repository (at the moment, most of them are lying on the shelves in libraries and hardly used by researchers and practitioners). We set up several meetings with colleagues from the institutions with the purpose of gaining institutional permissions to upload these theses onto the repository. Although all the participants thought this was a good idea and wished to take the action forward, the institutional approval process was very slow. By the end of the project, we had only received writing permission from one institution.

Our experience shows that both funding bodies and academics are positive on giving permission to disseminate and share the research outcomes and data to a broader audiences and users through the repository. However, publishers are wary and most of them are still hostile to open access due to the issues and problems the industry faces. Many institutions dont have clear policies on who should be responsible for copyright and IPR issues and pass the responsibility to library staff. There is an urgent need for more efficient and cost effective mechanisms and methods to copyright clearance and permissions.

It could be anticipated that IPR and copyright issues will move up the agenda of key issues as more and more OER development takes place. In particular, with the forthcoming Open Educational Content call. JISC has already funded several projects to look at the issues and provide guidance and useful tools for researchers, lecturers and institutions to deal with IPR and copyright issues. For example, by accessing the RoMEO (Publisher’s copyright & archiving policies) website, you can check a publishers default policy and permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher’s copyright transfer agreement. The Web2Rights project provides a basic IP toolkit for projects engaging with Web2.0 technologies and emerging legal issues. JISC-SURF Partnering on Copyright programme has looked at University Copyright Policies and developed a set of Practical Guidelines suitable for HEI in the UK. As open educational content projects continue to evolve and expand, researchers, lecturers, students and institutions will inter-relate with IPR and copyright issues as never before. The protection offered to research papers, teaching and learning materials by copyright law is in excess of what is required by most academics who think about open and sharing resources in education. More efforts will be needed to address the challenging questions in order to adapt innovative approaches to educational content creation, reusing and sharing.

I have no intention to talk about the complexity of the copyright issues to an 11 year old child but I might introduce him to Creative Commons and see if he could use it for sharing his work with others over the internet. It may be better to leave some spaces for children to try their own ways to the solution when they have opportunities to think about the same issues as adults. The truth of the matter is that by the time the Youtube generation grows up, there will be a much higher demand for open access to educational resources by learners and reusing and sharing teaching materials among academics. It is clear that deep changes are needed to promote educational ˜fair use in normal copyright law. I hope that some of the barriers we encountered today will not be a problem in the future.

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