Library & Student Services

Copyright and Online Teaching During the Current Crisis

One of the many consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the necessary transition to online learning across the entire HE sector in order to minimise contact and the risk of infection. On 23 March our university closed its buildings and moved all teaching and assessment into the online environment. Our Copyright Clearance Officer, Rachel Thornton, explores some of the impacts.

Person at laptop

This has been challenging for everyone, particularly because of the speed at which the change had to be made. As we rush to make content available online as quickly as possible, it might be tempting to ignore copyright, which offers legal protection to original works and prevents unauthorised copying except in certain circumstances.

There is an argument that copyright is a barrier to the sharing of knowledge and resources, and in such exceptional times we should be allowed to take a ‘copyright holiday’. The reverse argument is that creators such as authors, artists and photographers need the revenue received from copyright more than ever, now that movement is restricted and shops and exhibitions are closed.

Publishers and rights holders are recognising that there is an urgent need for students and researchers to access the content they need in order to successfully continue with their studies. Publishers such as Cambridge University Press are opening up their collections and making resources free to access online.

Many resources are already available online and the Library website provides information about thousands of electronic resources. New resources are being added to the Databases A-Z list as publishers make them available. This content may only be available temporarily however, and usage restricted by the terms of a licence.

Licences enable copyright holders to control how their works are used. An example of how licensing is now being used to increase access during the COVID-19 situation is Box of Broadcasts, the online off-air television and radio recording service for education and research. This service operates under the terms of the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licence and normal access is restricted to the UK. In recognition of those students who may be now studying overseas due to travel restrictions, the licence has been temporarily extended to the EU until the end of July.

Amongst all the collections of online resources currently being promoted, there are some which are not legal, or entirely legal. Any collection which has no copyright or licensing information and is not managed by the rights holders, is probably a pirate site (for example, Z-Library).

Even collections claiming to provide valuable access to resources during this time of crisis, such as the National Emergency Library, are being accused of using the crisis as an opportunity to flout copyright laws, and copyright holders are looking to take action against them. There are resources in the National Emergency Library (or Internet Archive) which are out-of-copyright or licensed, but this legitimate content is not always obvious.

Where resources are available in print, the University has an agreement in place with the Copyright Licencing Agency (CLA) and the Library’s Digitisation Service facilitates the digitising of print materials for use in teaching under the terms of the CLA licence.

Digitised readings created under this licence are stored in the CLA’s Digital Content Store (DCS) and access is via links added to MyBeckett or to online reading lists.

Although the Digitisation Service is unable to create new digitised readings due to the Library closure, we will be able to check whether the extracts are already available in the DCS.

The CLA licence terms have been temporarily relaxed in two key areas in order to facilitate greater access to digitised readings during this time:

  • Removal of the requirement for the University to own the original source– this enables us to make use of any extract held in the DCS or where the original is owned by an academic.
  • For certain titles, the copy limit of the licence has been extended from one chapter or 10% of a work to three chapters or 30% of a work, whichever is greater. The University or academic must have ownership of the original in this case. Not all publishers have opted-in to this arrangement, but the Digitisation Service will be able to check.

Further details are available on the CLA’s website:

These changes will be in effect until 30/6/2020, or 'until normality resumes' whichever comes first, and only apply if a commercial electronic copy is not available to purchase. To request an eBook purchase, see the Library’s New temporary requesting service.

If an academic would like to digitise an extract from their own personal copy, the resulting file must be emailed to in order to upload it to the DCS.

Any copies created under these extended licence terms should be taken down at the end of this crisis period.

As well as licensing, copyright law also provides certain exceptions whereby copyright protected works can be re-used for certain purposes. These “fair dealing” exceptions may be particularly useful during this time as they include copying extracts for “quotation”, “criticism and review” and “illustration for instruction”. In each case acknowledgement of the source is required and the use must be fair and necessary for that purpose. Further details can be found here.

Be wary of terms such as “fair use” and “public domain” which are mainly used in the United States and not applicable in the UK.

Further information about copyright and licensing is available for students on the Library website and for staff on the MyBeckett staff guides.

There is also a very useful blog including up-to-date copyright information and lists of resources from the Copyright Literacy website:

Rachel Thornton

Copyright Clearance Officer

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