Is it OK to shoot the messenger?

And if so, should Google be taking some bullets?

I’ve just been reading this interesting news story. It seems that hundreds of thousands of copyright owners every week are spotting websites reproducing their content without permission, then complaining to Google about it.

Should a notice like this be posted at the entrance to the Library?

It’s not surprising that website owners are taking umbrage at this. What maybe is noteworthy is that it’s Google they complain to and not the owners of the offending sites. Is it because people now use “Google” and  “the internet” as interchangeable terms? As in: “I found it on Google”? Do they think that Google actually hosts all this material in the same way as YouTube does with video clips, whereas in fact all they are doing is indexing it? Isn’t it a bit like someone finding sexist or racist material in a library book and complaining to staff about it?

Or do they see Google as some kind of internet policeman? It’s unlikely that historically Google has solicited complaints of this sort, although it seems that they’re now prepared to acknowledge that copyright infringements are an issue with material posted on the web: they’ve added a copyright section to their Transparency Report, detailing the take-down requests they’ve received along with a list naming and shaming repeat offenders. What I can’t find on any of these pages though is an assurance that offending material will be removed…

(Image: Creative Commons licence from ALA – The American Library Association)


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)

Football update

Anyone who follows a football team for any length of time knows that the lows far outnumber the highs. For me one such low occurred the last time I turned out to cheer my team on last weekend.

Early in the second half the opposing goalkeeper took a hopeful but aimless punt upfield, as goalkeepers do. This is something which happens ten, maybe twenty, times in a game and rarely produces excitement of any kind. Imagine then, if you will, my consternation and that of my fellow supporters as we looked up to see the ball get caught in the wind, bounce and sail over the head of our own hapless goalie and into the net.

Of course it’s rare that non-league football hits the headlines. One incident which received rather more media coverage was when the same thing happened in a Premiership match last January when Everton’s Tim Howard scored a similar goal.

Predictably, within hours of the ball crossing the line a video clip of the Howard goal appeared on YouTube. Some time later there was an objection from the Premier League that the extract had been uploaded to the site without their permission and hence it had to be taken down.

At the time there was some discussion on the copyright mailing list I subscribe to (you’re jealous, aren’t you?) as to the whys and wherefores of this. Were the Premier League within their rights to complain? Maybe yes, given the fact that they claim ownership of TV footage of Premiership matches. What, though, if a spectator had filmed it himself on his phone? Could the Premier League justifiably object to this?

Would this be comparable to someone filming a live musical performance? Generally this wouldn’t be permissible because of a part of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act which gives individuals a “performance right”. This obliges anyone wanting to film a performance and share it with others to seek permission before doing so. This is why lecturers need to give their OK before their lectures are filmed.

Either way it’s doubtful that Tim Howard would object too strongly to having the single goalscoring achievement in his footballing career publicised as widely as possible.

(Image: Creative Commons courtesy of jbelluch)

Have you been to YouTube copyright school?

It’s so much a part of our everyday lives that we sometimes presume that YouTube content can be shared with whoever we want however we want, embedded in a blog, on a VLE, on a public website. And yes, it’s true that a lot of the content on the site is original material which has been uploaded for the express purpose of making it available to others.

Think of all the music videos and TV and film clips there are on the site though. How many of them have been uploaded with the consent of the artists and companies who own the rights?

Historically YouTube have taken quite a relaxed approach to copyright: they don’t do much to check whether or not material has been uploaded legally. They have tightened up though in recent times. What they will now do is remove a clip if they receive what they consider to be a valid complaint from a rights holder. And they’ll ban repeat offenders.

YouTube have also added some guidance on their copyright page but doesn’t the prospect of ploughing through all that information give you a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach? You might, on the other hand, have a few minutes for this video, in the company of cartoon super-group, er, Lumpy and the Lumpettes:


In a nutshell:

•    Don’t use someone else’s video without permission
•    Don’t film someone else performing and then share the recording with others—without permission
•    Don’t take someone else’s material, adapt it, remix it, mash it up. Without permission.

Point hammered home then…

My new copyright blog…

Copyright is a prickly subject. There are more wrongs than rights and no easy explanations of the whys and wherefores.

As copyright officer in a university library I often come across videos, cartoons and blog posts which help me pick my way through the copyright maze, so I’m hoping this blog will let me share these things with you. You’re welcome to it.

Please comment, ask questions, argue. Complain if you’re moved to do so. I have some answers but probably not as many as I’d like.

I can commiserate if nothing else. Might that help? Copyright courses and education in plain English

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