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The problem with reading books aloud via social media

As a librarian with experience of working in both the schools and Further Education sector, copyright has always featured somewhere on my radar. Fortunately, I spent 5 years working as a Copyright Officer at the University of Reading, and in that time developed a working knowledge of the law; in particular, how it relates to education. In 2011, there were some changes to copyright which have benefitted the education sector. Teachers are now legally able to show material via an interactive whiteboard and also use material under fair dealing for illustration, criticism or review. Licences are required to show or play broadcasts during lessons, and to photocopy book chapters and articles and make them available on a VLE. Educational establishments can take advantage of such licences from the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) and the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) to ensure that they can do the basic tasks such as recording from the TV and radio and making multiple copies of worksheets.

Nonetheless, as the world of education continues to use technology to explore ideas and push the boundaries of teaching and learning, there are still many activities which are neither covered by licence nor a legal exception. One area of conflict immediately springs to mind: the reading aloud of books via social media.

I’ll tackle reading books aloud to an audience first as this has been on my mind for some time. Since discovering the Facebook Live channel of a headteacher in Texas who reads bedtime stories to her students every Tuesday night, schools in the UK have been wondering about doing a similar sort of thing to get children excited about books. After this issue was raised on Twitter by Elizabeth Hutchinson (a school libraries consultant), I took another look at section 34 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. This (abridged to make it relevant to the reading of books) states:

(1)The performance of a literary work before an audience of teachers and pupils at an educational establishment and other persons directly connected with the activities of the establishment—

(a) by a teacher in the course of the activities of the establishment, or

(b) at the establishment by any person for the purposes of instruction, is not a public performance for the purposes of infringement of copyright.

(3)A person is not for this purpose directly connected with the activities of the educational establishment simply because he is the parent of a pupil at the establishment.

Section (3) is the sticking point. As the school would not be able to guarantee that parents would not see the performance, written permission would have to be sought. When Elizabeth contacted a publisher about this, the publisher denied permission stating that it would be “problematic”. The school has therefore not been able to replicate the success of its American counterpart.

A similar situation arose on YouTube where a teenager’s account called ‘Bringing Books to Life’ was shut down because of copyright violations. People would read a chapter of a Young Adult novel and send it to her to upload to her YouTube feed, and it seemed to have teenagers really engaged. Yet because the books were still under copyright, and the whole book was being read, this constituted an infringement of the law. Particularly as this sort of activity potentially has an impact on sales of the audiobook.

It’s a difficult situation; on the one hand, librarians want to be able to foster a love of reading, yet on the other hand, they do not want to undermine authors and publishers who create the content. It is sad that so many public libraries are being closed as they are the perfect spaces for the discovery of books and stories. As librarians we want to do the right thing – except that so often we can’t because we don’t have the funds. For now, it seems the only solution is to work with local public libraries’ OverDrive platform. However, the collection of teen fiction in audio format varies widely between local authorities. It may be worth investigating other solutions such as LibriVox or SYNC – it is mostly the classics and other public domain works which are available but there are several options available.

So how do we ensure that teachers don’t hate us when we have to say no to their great ideas? Firstly I would suggest that you check the legal exceptions and whether there is a licence available to do the activity you want to do. Secondly, check with colleagues in other institutions to find out what they think or in some cases may have done; a mailing list such as LIS-Copyseek is invaluable for this.  Thirdly, assess the risk; a non-commercial, restricted audience use is significantly lower risk than something done on the wider web or for commercial, profit-making purposes. Finally, seek opportunities to educate about copyright wherever you see an opportunity! This may be in the context of academic conduct/plagiarism or as part of the creative arts curriculum/media studies.

Fortunately, there are a number of excellent sites which provide information about copyright: CopyrightUser is a non-biased website providing detailed information on each exception in copyright. Incidentally, CLA’s Education Platform looks like the sort of initiative which will be a great asset to the sector; it enables access to digital versions of books owned by your institution and allows you to instantly share high-quality, copyright-compliant copies and store them for future use. Anything which helps librarians to help teaching staff is greatly welcomed!

About the author

Emily Stannard (@CopyrightGirl) is a former university copyright officer who is now Head Librarian at Bradfield College, an independent secondary school. Emily is passionate about copyright and offers advice and guidance on copyright issues to information professionals. She is an experienced copyright trainer and is currently Vice-Chair of the UK School Library Association’s (SLA) Berkshire branch and a member of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA).