Book Review: Copyright and E-learning: A Guide for Practitioners, 2nd ed. by Jane Secker with Chris Morrison

In Copyright and E-Learning, A Guide for Practitioners, Jane Secker and Chris Morrison provide guidance to educational practitioners working with copyright content. While the book is particularly of use to those in the HE sector, this guide offers a holistic, timely and useful overview of the most pertinent copyright issues affecting education today, writes Emily Stannard

Copyright and E-learning: A Guide for Practitioners. 2nd ed. Jane Secker with Chris Morrison. Facet Publishing. 2016.

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Copyright. The word that strikes fear into the heart of information practitioners. But why is this? Simply that there are severe penalties for non-compliance, and custodians of information too often just say no to requests for copying in case they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. This leaves customers frustrated, perceiving copyright laws to be unfairly prejudiced against the user community and often leading to a lack of respect for copyright more broadly. So how are information practitioners supposed to both satisfy their customers and ensure that the law of copyright is respected?

In this second edition of her book, Jane Secker (formally of the London School of Economics and now Lecturer in Educational Development at City University) provides appropriate and timely guidance to practitioners working with copyright content within the sphere of education. Secker has been a key figure on the copyright landscape for many years, and in collaboration with Chris Morrison (Copyright Licensing and Compliance Officer, University of Kent) has refreshed her book with up-to-date case studies and survey results from copyright practitioners working in education.

The copyright landscape has changed substantially in the last decade. The development of new technologies such as smartphones and social media has revolutionised the way ordinary people consume and share content. This has proved problematic for laws such as copyright which were drawn up before the invention of the World Wide Web. Since its update in 1988, UK copyright law has undergone a number of changes to try to keep apace with technological developments. The most significant of these are the harmonisation of copyright law with the EU copyright and related rights ‘acquis’ and the changes to national copyright law in 2014 arising from the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property. The first chapter of the book summarises these changes as well as highlighting copyright laws in other countries.

With the shift in education towards different learning needs, there is a growing demand for multimedia content such as video and images. Hot topics within Higher Education (HE) at the moment include Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and lecture capture. The copyright challenges of each of these topics, where multiple rights abound and licences can be tricky, are concisely presented in short sections and expert advice is provided for readers. Those involved with both MOOCs and lecture capture handle a range of third-party content (content which is ‘owned by someone other than the person copying, communicating or receiving it’ (xxxi), according to the helpful glossary at the beginning of the book). Much of this will be multimedia that contain a plethora of rights held by various people, and clearing these rights can take a long time and cost a small fortune. Secker indicates that ‘MOOCs may incur high permission charges’ (200), and that their ‘open nature’ means that creators of MOOCs are unlikely to be able to rely on any copyright exceptions as a defence. It is therefore essential that MOOC creators look for and use openly licensed content.

Image Credit: ( CC BY SA 2.0)

Probably the most valuable information in the third chapter of the book is a list of where to find copyright-free or copyright-cleared digital material. This is so important for e-learning co-ordinators who are in the midst of creating MOOCs or are involved in any form of commercial educational activity where rights clearances can be exceptionally pricey. A useful case study from University College London provides insight into setting up a range of free and paid-for open courses via partnerships, and explains how they have dealt with issues with third party content (106).

Standard practice in the HE sector is to digitise text-based content for course delivery in the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The second chapter of the book exclusively deals with this and draws heavily on the authors’ own survey of HE establishments, the UK Higher Education Scanning Survey Report. The case study from Middlesex University included in Chapter Two provides illuminating evidence on how to set up and run a digitisation service, with clear steps on each stage of the process. The chapter is heavily academic, containing a lot of statistical evidence, but provides useful background information.

This section will be of most use to librarians and copyright officers working in the HE sector and who use the Copyright Licensing Agency’s (CLA) licence and reporting methods, though it is of little practical value to those working in other education sectors as the CLA does not require data to be collected in the same way. CLA data reporting for the HE sector has been a mixed bag over the past decade, with institutions using either PackTracker (provided by Heron), Talis Aspire Digitised Content (TADC) or an in-house system. The landscape has since changed significantly with the retirement of the HERON and PackTracker services in 2016; this has been replaced by the CLA’s Digital Content Store (DCS) in 2017. The success of this service remains to be seen, but the CLA has committed to continuing the user groups that made Heron such a welcoming and successful service.

Training is a key part of any role in education, not just for one’s own professional development but for the education of others in the institution. The final chapter deals with copyright training, looking at tailoring sessions to specific audiences such as students, teaching staff and librarians. Practical considerations such as publicity and the timing of training are examined: the authors suggest that a good time to deliver copyright training in UK universities is between March and May to avoid peak periods at the start and end of the academic year (230). Ironically, when marketing copyright training sessions, avoiding the word ‘copyright’ usually increases the chances of a better turn-out! (230). A range of advisory literature such as booklets, guides and web-based material is explored, the key message being that any guidance given must be kept up-to-date. Readers are also directed to a range of useful companies, networks, websites and books for more information about copyright, such as the JISCMail list LIS-Copyseek which is ideal for anyone working in Higher and Further Education.

Copyright and E-Learning provides a holistic overview of copyright issues in the education sector, including background to inform and guidance as to where to find further information and copyright-free resources. The intended audience for the book is ‘anyone working in education sector who uses some form of digital learning technology to support students’ (xvii), from primary through to higher education. However, all except one case study is taken from HE where ‘copyright education and support is […] better resourced’ (xvii), and there is little evidence throughout the book that other sectors either engage with, or attach as great an importance to, copyright as the HE sector.

The book is therefore rather ambitious in its remit, and is more realistically aimed at copyright officers, digital technologists and librarians rather than teaching staff who are unlikely to have the time or inclination to delve into copyright law (as evidenced on occasion by the tone of the book where it is clear that the author is not addressing teachers (119)). It is not a book to read from cover to cover, but rather should be used as a guide for copyright practitioners to dip in and out of as and when they need. Facet Publishing produces many of the authoritative texts on copyright and this book slots neatly amongst its counterparts, providing a useful overview of the most pertinent copyright issues in education.

Formerly Copyright and Compliance Officer at the University of Reading, Emily Stannard is an independent copyright expert who specialises in delivering copyright education to information professionals. She has over five years’ experience of developing and influencing copyright policy and advising on aspects of copyright law and licensing. Emily is a keen user of social media and was listed in Managing Intellectual Property magazine (2014) and the Times (2010) as one of the Top Ten legal tweeters for her @copyrightgirl Twitter channel. She is also a member of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance and led LACA’s submission of evidence to both the Hargreaves Review and the latest European copyright consultation. She is passionate about copyright issues in education and blogs about them at Copyright For Education.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


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