Quick notes: Naomi Korn on copyright and educational resources

I gate-crashed a lecture on copyright that Naomi Korn gave at Edinburgh University. I’ve had an interest in copyright for as long as I have been working with open access and open educational resources, about ten years. I think I understand the basic concepts pretty well, but even so Naomi managed to catch a couple of misconceptions I held and also crystallised some ideas with well chosen examples.

hand drawn copyright symbol and word 'copyright' in cursive script.
from naomikorn.com

First, quick intro to Naomi. Naomi is a copyright consultant (but not a lawyer). I first met her through her work for UKOER, which I really liked because she gave us pragmatic advice that helped us release resources openly not just list of all the things we couldn’t do. Through that and other work Naomi & colleagues have created a set of really useful resources on copyright for OER (which are themselves openly licensed).

Naomi has also done some work with the Imperial War Museum from which she drew the story of Ethel Bilborough’s First World War diary. It’s there on her website so I won’t repeat here. The key lessons (to me) revolved around copyright existing from the moment of creation until 70 years after the author’s death; copyright is a property which can be inherited; ownership of the physical artifact does not necessarily mean ownership of the copyright; and composite works (the diary contained press cuttings and photos) creating more complex problems with several rights holders. All of these (and the last one especially) are relevant to modern teaching and learning resources.

In general copyright supports the copying and use of resources through permission from the  rights owner (a licence) and various copyright exceptions. However, sometimes it is necessary to fall back on a pragmatic approach of taking a reasonable risk, for example when the rights owner is not traceable.  Naomi described some interesting issues around the use of  copyright resources in teaching and learning. For example, there are exceptions to copyright for criticism, review or quotation and for teaching purposes. However these are limited in that such use must be fair dealing (I learnt this: that fair dealing/fair use is an additional limitation on an exception, not a type of exception). Fair dealing is undefined, and may not include putting materials online. Naomi described how easy it is for use of a resource under an exception to become an infringement in the context of modern teaching as the private space of teaching becomes more public. For example a resource used in lecture which is videoed, the video made public. All the more reason to be careful in the first place; all the more reason to use liberal licences such as creative commons, which are not limited to a specific scenario.

copyright pragmatics

All the way through her talk Naomi encouraged us to think about copyright in terms of being respectful of other people: giving the credit due to resource creators. She left left us with some key points of advice

  • make sure that you know the basics
  • make sure you know who can help you
  • ask when you’re not sure

fun fact

For copyright purposes, software is classed as a literary work.