Category Archives: it’s the law!

Reform school

CopyrightReformI would be failing in my duty as a copyright librarian if I didn’t mention the fact that there are important changes afoot in copyright law.

There are important changes afoot in copyright law!

Part of why they’re important is that they’re the first significant changes to copyright law since the 2003 Copyright and Related Rights Regulations and possibly even since the Copyright Designs and Patents Act came into force way back in 1988.

When you find out what the some of the changes are you’ll realise that they won’t address half of the issues copyright law throws up but they are important. Honestly. For one thing, it’s so rare that the UK Government gets itself together sufficiently to a) propose and consult on changes to copyright law and then b) get as far as implementing them, that any commitment to think again about outmoded legislation like this must by definition represent some progress. For another thing, the changes will at least begin to tackle the huge disparity which has developed since 1988 between, on the one hand, what has become practically possible as technology has developed, and on the other what is legally permissible .

For anyone who doesn’t have much of a stomach for the minutiae of legislation (and who does, frankly?), here’s my bluffer’s guide to some of the changes which will affect us in higher education. (Copyright librarian’s disclaimer!: this list isn’t meant to be comprehensive and it’s not possible to be 100% accurate since some of the detail won’t be finally decided until the changes come into force until next April.)

  • The changes aim to level the playing field between the worlds of print and the digital. There are allowances for printed works in the current law but not for online material (such a thing hardly existed in 1988, after all). As an example, the new law will allow you to make your own copy of digital material for non-commercial private study. Currently the allowance is only for printed material.
  • Sound recordings, films and TV broadcasts are to be included in parts of the law where they weren’t before. For instance, a library will be able to make a copy for preservation purposes no matter what the format. Currently you can only do this for print material.
  • There’s a new allowance for use of quotations which removes the current need for criticism and review.
  • There are new entitlements for parody, caricature and pastiche.
  • The scope for re-use of materials for disabled users has been widened to cover all impairments, not just visual ones, as is currently the case.
  • At present, contract law overrules copyright law. What this means is that where material is made available under a contract or licence, its terms dictate what you can and can’t do with that material even if what you’re wanting to do is actually allowed by copyright law. For example, there can be a clause in an e-book licence which forbids you from copying and pasting quotes into another resource. Copyright law allows you to do this in certain circumstances (like criticism and review) but in practice you are still bound by the licence restrictions. Put at its simplest, the new law will mean that copyright entitlements will hold sway. Licence terms will no longer be able to overrule them.

And breathe.

It’s quite likely that you are staggered by the amount of basic tasks listed above which are still not permitted by current legislation. And even if the virtue of the new proposals is only that they will legalise what many of us are already doing, the changes are still important ones. I think it’s the principle which counts, the fact that some small steps are being taken and that those in high places are showing some interest in removing some of the legalistic barriers between the interests of copyright owners and those of us trying to go about our business in higher education.

(For those interested, there is a more detailed analysis of the proposals on the Copyright for Education blog.)

(Images courtesy of Mimi and Eunice and xkcd.)outraged


Could copyright crash your birthday party?

Did you know that copyright in the song birthday cake“Happy Birthday to You” belongs to the Warner/Chappell publishing house? Well that’s what they claim. They say they bought it in 1988 for a cost of $25 million. Don’t feel too sorry for them though because it’s thought that since then those rights have guaranteed them an annual windfall of $2m in re-use fees.

This has all come to light lately because a US film-maker is taking Warner/Chappell to court to challenge their claim and return the song to the public domain.

It’ll be interesting to see how the court case pans out, but let’s assume for a while that Warner/Chappell *do* own the copyright in the song as they claim. What would the implications be? We’ve all sung this song at birthday parties. Might we have been breaking the law all this time??

First let’s consider the legal situation. Although the song originated in the US and the publishers are based there, we are in the UK so UK law would apply.

Might the copyright have expired? There may be two separate types of copyright in a song: lyrics and music. In the UK, copyright in “literary works” (which would apply to the lyrics) and “musical works” (er, the music) expires seventy years from the end of the calendar year in which the author or composer died. If the music first appeared in the late 1800s and the lyrics in 1911 then it’s possible that copyright *has* expired. We could do a bit more digging here to try and check this…

There are a number of “acts” which are “restricted” under UK copyright law. These are actions which under certain circumstances might be illegal. One is copying the work, another is “issuing copies of the work to the public”, yet another is “performing” the work.  “Performing” might be an optimistic description if your experience of birthday parties is anything like mine but maybe we should check whether or not our singing is in tune with copyright legislation.

So what type of “performance” might be a problem? Well the law says that there could be copyright issues with performing “in public”. Typically, its definition of what might constitute a “public” performance is very brief but it does include “any mode of visual or acoustic presentation, including…a sound recording, film or broadcast”. That might explain why it’s film makers who have particularly fallen foul of Warner/Chappell.

But does that mean we are breaking the law if someone has filmed us singing “Happy Birthday to You” at a party? The idea might seem preposterous to you but if this is a song still in copyright whose rights belong to a major U.S. publishing house (and of course the jury will literally soon be out on this), then there might be an issue here.

The trouble is that there’s nothing in the wording of the law which categorically says it’s OK to sing someone else’s song and make a film of yourselves doing so. And that’s why, when anyone asks me a copyright question, I generally answer something along the lines of “well, no actually, that’s not strictly allowed by copyright law”. Welcome to my world.

As ever in these cases, we’d need to ask what are the risks? If I’m just making a film to share with my family? And maybe adding it to Facebook or YouTube? These are both freely available websites (alarm bells?) but haven’t hundreds (thousands?) of people already put up films of themselves or others singing other people’s songs and not got into trouble for it? Surely it would be OK?

Well yes, probably. This is often the way my copyright enquiries end up. I can tell you that there’s unlikely to be anything in the law which allows this, but what risk are you running? I’m afraid that’s for you to decide.

I’ve just discovered that today is Boris Johnson’s birthday! Altogether now…

(Image: Birthday Cake, Creative Commons via Will Clayton)

Indian shop sued over students’ photocopies

An Indian university has set up its own photocopying shop to supply its students with cheap copies of textbooks. Publishers don’t like it and are taking them to court.

Whose side are you on?

What is copyright?

The CLA have posted some interesting videos on their YouTube page.

They’ve interviewed various people and asked them to say what copyright means for them. There are a few different points of view: a university copyright officer, a freelance photographer, an educational author and a number of people working in the publishing industry.

Here are some choice quotes (see if you can match the quote to the speaker):

  • “[Copyright] is something even the very young can understand”.
  • “I get a royalty statement twice a year…. It’s a complete delight [that my work is still selling after sometimes 20 years]… I benefit financially but also just emotionally. I love… knowing that [my work] is still out there… that it’s still being used and people are still liking it”.
  • “When I rang them up and said excuse me but you’ve got my images, they said ‘Oh the Web Designer said it’s fine because they’re on the internet’. No!”
  • “I like to talk about copyright a lot because I really enjoy it.”

The videos are worth dipping into. It’s good to get the perspective of those who really lose out on a personal as well as professional level because of copyright infringement–the photographer, Jemma Watts, is particularly good at articulating this.

And I also like this definition of copyright, from Mel Thompson, educational author, which you can equally apply to internet-based resources: “If you buy a book, you don’t buy the words, the story or the illustrations in that book…all you buy is… the access to be able to enjoy and use those things… It’s simply access. It’s not ownership.”

(Image: Creative Commons licence from gaelx)


Why is copyright law so unhelpful?

An old hat

Well, good question. The main reason is that most copyright law is based on legislation from an era when computers were really only used to get men to the Moon and back and weren’t thought to have any day-to-day application for the likes of you and me.

Hence what’s legally allowed copyright-wise is rooted in the printed word and extremely difficult to apply to the online digital cyber-type world we all live in these days. While technical developments have continued apace (“Ooh, look how easily I can copy this stuff from this really useful website”), legal entitlements are still stuck in the past (“What a shame copying this stuff from this really useful website is against the law”).

So what are the chances that this might change anytime soon? Well again, good question. We’ve recently sent in a reply to a consultation by the Intellectual Property Office which maybe offers some hope. The proposals in this consultation work almost exclusively to the benefit of higher educational in the UK, so hoorah for that. In fact it may surprise you how few of these activities are not already allowed, given that so little material copied in a university is put to commercial use.

  • The consultation proposes to extend what’s known as the “educational exception” in copyright law by removing the existing limits which allow only a) “copying by non-reprographic means”, i.e. with a pen, pencil, crayon or presumably by chipping away at some sort of slate and b) access to copied materials only within university buildings.
  • It suggests that “fair dealing” provisions be extended so that films, sound recordings and broadcasts can be copied for non-commercial research and private study. At present this entitlement only applies to literary, dramatic and musical works which appear in printed form. Students of some disciplines (music, journalism, sociology) are at a real disadvantage here.
  • The consultation recommends that terms of licences should be more generous. Some don’t even accommodate the basic entitlements inherent in copyright law. For example, e-book suppliers often block students from copying more than 5% of a particular title even where they’d have to exceed this limit to copy a whole chapter. Copyright law would allow you to copy the whole chapter even if it was more than 5%.
  • (One for the Library e-resources team here!) The work involved in understanding, recording and then publicising the constantly changing terms of every e-resource licence we have is one we as Library staff simply can’t do. So we’re obliged to take the terms of the least generous licence we have, use them as a default and apply them across the board. If all licences simply toed the line with copyright law we’d have a much clearer idea of the base line and so users would benefit from more generous terms.

So, what are the chances that these changes will happen in our lifetimes? Well, once responses from universities like ours have been considered, they have to be thrashed out (let’s say “negotiated”) with the publishing sector who might not as enthusiastic as we are about what’s proposed. Then it will be up either to members of the Coalition–if they’re still around–to see them through or to the new government to continue the momentum. Or maybe they’ll consider that they have other fish to fry…

So who knows? At least it gives us an opportunity to bring these issues out into the open. If that leads to greater understanding among the political elite of the massive way in which the whole of education is hamstrung by archaic copyright laws that’s got to be a good thing, no?

(Image: Creative Commons Licence from chefranden) Copyright courses and education in plain English

A university copyright officer tries to make sense of it all...

Mimi and Eunice

A university copyright officer tries to make sense of it all...

A university copyright officer tries to make sense of it all...

Copyright For Education

A university copyright officer tries to make sense of it all...