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Library behind the scenes – “Copyright” is not a dirty word!

Whether it’s Pharrell Williams getting into trouble for copying Marvin Gaye’s music, J.K. Rowling winning numerous law suits or wrangles over a monkey selfie,  something called ‘copyright’ can impact on culture and society in many ways. Rachel Thornton, the University’s Copyright Clearance Officer, based within the Library, tells us more.

Library behind the scenes  Copyright is not a dirty word

"Copyright gives legal protection to the original, recorded expression of ideas and it is often argued that without copyright there would be little incentive to create and innovate. Copyright allows creators to control how their works are used, as well as gaining reward for their endeavours."

The first copyright law came into force in England in 1710, its good intentions demonstrated by its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning”. This early statute only applied to the copying of books. Since then, copyright law has spread across the world, been updated and amended and has needed to take into account new forms of delivery and expression (the internet, social media!!).

But copyright can also be seen as a barrier; too prohibitive and complicated to follow. My role is to advise staff and students on how to reuse another person’s work without infringing copyright or being in breach of a licence, and to seek ‘copyright clearance’ when permission from a rights holder is required. Details of the Copyright Clearance Service are available on the Library website.

This can lead to some interesting tasks: clearing cartoons for inclusion in a published textbook, investigating music licensing for a drama project, tracking down photographers for a history presentation and contacting rights holders across the world for permission to use their material. I also contacted Orcid  to ask permission to use their logo on promotional cup cakes!

A large part of my role is also managing the Digitisation Service, which supports staff and students by providing digitised readings for use in teaching. We create digital copies of book chapters and journal articles under the terms of the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Licence. These are then accessed from module reading lists in MyBeckett. During the last academic year there were 446 modules using a total of 2,140 licensed digitised readings. That was a lot of activity for our book scanner (both person and machine)!

Another area I support is the Alternative Formats Service, obtaining accessible formats of library texts for students with a print impairment. This involves contacting publishers and requesting an electronic copy of a book on behalf of a student who would otherwise not be able to read it in print (or online, if an eBook is inaccessible). We also use RNIB Bookshare to request and download titles – 157 accessible books were downloaded from this site alone for our students last year.

I haven’t quite been in this role since the 1700’s and that first law, but over the 20 years I have been a Copyright Officer, I have seen many changes and faced the challenges of interpreting new exceptions and restrictions to enable the University to make the best use of all the research, information and resources potentially available to us". Copyright guidelines and full details of all the services offered can be found on the Library website.    

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