Copyright Mistakes: Some Insights

Over the years, I have been struck by just how much we have been our own worst enemies by “othering” copyright. By removing it from its rightful context (please excuse the pun!) as an active issue that underpins any type of content interaction – creation, use, commissioning, acquisition, lending (in and out), curation, sharing, publishing and aggregation – we can end up:

  1. Seeing it as a purely legal issue, everyone else’s problem and only one that the lawyers need to be concerned about.
  2. Isolating it away from project management considerations, resource and budget calculations and issues associated with staff time and expertise.
  3. Failing to understand its relevance to project planning and content selection.
  4. Often ignoring it until the end of a project and thus leaving ourselves exposed to the risk that we have not considered any contractual obligations relating to rights. (relevant if we are working in partnership, using others content, receiving funding etc).
  5. Viewing it through the lens of one-off uses, rather than a broader organisational issue – so we may not negotiate all the rights we need, or need in the future.
  6. Failing to store the rights-related records and information centrally  – so we don’t future proof what we are doing, nor recognise the importance of copyright as an intrinsic component of knowledge management.
  7. Forgeting to consider what we want to use, how and by whom (and any reuse licences we grant) at the beginning of the project. This type of decision is often taken at the end of the project and means that we may not have secured the rights we needed when we initially asked. Or failing that, and worse still, not negotiating with any rights holders what permissions we need according to any reuse licences (like Creative Commons Licences) we attach to content leaving ourselves exposed to unnecessary risks.
  8. Not building appropriate organisational policies, procedures and tools to support rights identification, management and protection.
  9. Failing to embed copyright know-how into staff (and where appropriate student) training as part of broader digital and information literacy training, training as part of courses that are undertaken etc.
  10. Losing opportunities to optimise our own copyright assets, by not identifying and protecting them sufficiently technologically and/or contractually when working with third parties, or ignoring opportunities to use copyright and other Intellectual Property Rights to underpin existing and new business opportunities
  11. Ignoring copyright as a top-down, bottom up, organisational issue – linked to the very heart-beat of every organisation – one that must and should have Senior Management Team buy-in, support and championing.
  12. Failing to acknowledge that often rights management means risk management. This may be in respect to:
    • works in copyright where the right holders are either unknown or cannot be traced (so-called “Orphan Works”);
    • works in which we are unsure whether they are in copyright or not, or have some other ambiguity such as unclear/contested ownership of rights etc;
    • how far we can apply the exceptions to copyright.

By not recognising the crucial role of risk management, we can become unnecessarily risk adverse or at the end of the spectrum, not keep ourselves safe by failing to put place sensible risk mitigating measures and staff training. Moreover, a recognised corporate policy on risk, provides a safe place for staff then to make important pragmatic, yet informed decisions about rights and risks. If you want to hear more about the role of rights management and risk management, I will be presenting a paper about this at CILIP Conference on 12 July 2016, in Brighton

So, where to start? There’s certainly loads to do to ensure that copyright is not “othered” and very much brought in from the cold. Starting with sensible copyright training for staff, which recognises the practical nature of copyright, can remove some of the fear and othering, and re-establish copyright as everyone’s issue. From there, the rest can be built in incrementally.

One thought on “Copyright Mistakes: Some Insights

  1. And of course, not seeing it as a very human issue, one where we acknowledge our roles as content creators and content users. This means that we should have inherent empathy to other content creators which can help us make right And fair decisions about content use.

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