The interpretation and practical application of copyright laws around the world is rarely straightforward. The use of third-party copyright protected materials often requires some degree of risk assessment, whether applying fair dealing or a specific provision from the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA), licensing electronic content under specific terms and conditions, or even when you have obtained permission from the actual copyright holder.
How, then, can universities engage in effective copyright risk management?
It's my opinion, as a copyright consultant and educator, that copyright risk management means taking all necessary steps to avoid infringing copyright. This requires understanding a number of items:
- domestic and global copyright law policies and principles
- what constitutes copyright infringement
- consequences associated with using copyright-protected materials
- how to take positive steps to decrease and manage those risks
- how to conduct a thorough risk assessment before using a third-party copyright-protected work without permission
Risks involved in the unauthorised use of a work
Risks involved in the unauthorised use of copyright materials go beyond legal issues. Risks may be financial in nature, such as fines, legal fees or the cost of resources deployed to address claims. Reputational damage is also a risk to consider. Universities, as institutions of higher learning and probity, may be vulnerable to public embarrassment and could even risk jeopardising important funding sources. And ethically, a university wants to remain to the highest standards of behaviour and act as a role model to others in its community.
Steps to decrease your risk
I recommend several steps you can follow to help decrease your university's risk of copyright infringement and improve your preparedness to deal with issues that may arise:
- Develop and regularly update a written copyright policy or guidelines
- Implement a procedure for obtaining permissions
- Include a mandatory step to ask the content owner to warrant that they are the copyright owner of the work and have the necessary rights to licence the content to you
- Raise the level of copyright literacy in the institution through on-going education and awareness about copyright law generally and issues relevant to universities in particular
- Address copyright principles, fair dealing, and the penalties for infringing copyright and licence agreements. Also address the provisions of licences the university has entered into.
- Maintain and keep updated a database of permissions, licences you have signed, and software you have purchased
- Research and track developments related to the UK's copyright statutes, international copyright law, court cases, and policies and procedures at similar institutions
- Consider purchasing insurance to cover the cost of after-the-fact licences and other monetary payments to copyright owners
- Retain a copyright lawyer to consult on challenging copyright issues
How can you begin to lower your copyright risks? Begin by understanding how copyright works, what uses of copyright materials are being made in your institution, and who is using those copyright materials. Correct copyright misinformation in your institution, learn all you can about copyright law and begin a copyright conversation in your institution to make others aware of the issues and consequences of using unauthorised content and how to keep copyright infringement and risks to a minimum.
About the Author
Lesley Ellen Harris is a copyright consultant, published author, and educator. Lesley has spoken on copyright law around the world and has taught an international audience of students through the Certificate in Copyright Management program she developed and taught for nine years in partnership with the Special Libraries Association (SLA), online courses with the American Library Association (ALA), and through the Copyright Leadership Certificate program. In 1998, Lesley began the blog Copyrightlaws.com where she simplifies copyright and empowers nonlawyers to confidently deal with day-to-day copyright and licensing issues.
The information in this article is not to be construed as legal advice or opinion; please consult a lawyer should you require legal advice or opinion.