Tied up in knots over copyright

13th April 2001 at 01:00
It's an ordinary day in Ordinary FE College. Staff and students are profitably occupied and the copyright officer goes through the daily copyright ritual. Alan Rae takes up the story

I think everything's fine - no one trying to make acetates from books and no one's asking about study packs. The AV people don't record OU broadcasts in the Learning Zone and no CD copying for a couple of days.

Mr Average from media studies has grasped the concept of the DACS Protocol - he no longer thinks it's a Robert Ludlum book anyway. And that nice Miss Middle in the administrative team has stopped asking about the NLA's management cuttings service after seeing the tally sheet.

Good - an ordinary day - I can have a look at this European directive that's causing a fuss...

"Yes, Mrs Bland, what brings you from media studies today?", "A couple of things, Mr Rae. I'm preparing materials for a new course. You got Mr Average in such a state over that DACS thingy that I thought I'd better talk to you before I proceed.

"I'd like 40 copies each of these 20 pages from the Encarta website - it's excellent material and I'll be using a lot more. Then a disk with these Dilbert cartoons scanned in. They're for handouts along with these postcards from the Tate Gallery I'm going to photocopy - is there a problem? Are you feeling unwell? You've gone very white.

"Sixty copies each of the front pages of these newspapers - Sun, Mirror, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Times, Dundee Courier and Independent. Their layouts of text, photographs and adverts are very interesting and ideal for my students. I'd also like a compilation tape of the clips from these video arts tapes I've borrowed from my husband's company.

"Oh, by the way, I want to compile all this material on a CD-Rom: I think we can make some money - it's a part of the curriculum that's not very well resourced.

"Mr Rae, what is the matter? You've fainted. Don't worry, you're in safe hands, I know cardio-pulmonary resuscitation - Mr Median in health studies got a CD burner for Christmas and he's made a copy for each team leader, all 40 of us, of that excellent Dorling Kindersley CD-Rom on first aid. Mr Rae, Mr Rae, hello?" Of course it's an exaggeration, isn't it? After all, Mrs Bland was making outrageous demands for teaching and learning materials, wasn't she?

Imagine wanting to use all that modern equipment - computers, scanners, CD burners. Goodness, she'll want to post it on the college website next.

Why staff can't use the excellent licences we have, I've no idea - we can copy just about anything we ant - all right, only paper to paper, no electronic storage, no photos or adverts, only up to 5 per cent or a chapter of text, no study packs, whatever they are, without paying extra, nothing from the web for multiple use - but these are minor inconveniences.

My goodness, don't these people know that they can copy freely, in their own handwriting, on to a chalkboard, for their students to copy in to their notebooks? That's paper notebooks for pens and pencils, not those fancy computer things.

(SEPARATE) Is it just me or is copyright licensing silly? We operate 10 licences, excluding software, in my college - which heaven forbid should bear any resemblance to Ordinary College. With the odd exception, few of those licensers have successfully tackled the digital issues that the academic world like resolved.

No doubt, with time, forests of correspondence and a healthy budget, I could clear the rights for Mrs Bland but the funds don't exist either for the time, or the fees, over and above what we already pay for licences.

Now my turn to be silly: why can't the Copyright Licensing Agency, Newspaper Licensing Agency and Design and Artists Copyright Society come together with a simple, easily administered licence to allow the copying, in various formats, of text? Such an alliance could include British Standards and Ordnance Survey while the three music licensers, two of whom are working together, could work under a single licence. The Educational Recording Agency, which has always kept up with technological change, could happily stay the same, as far as I am concerned.

I believe that the world of academe is just that - facilitators and recipients of teaching and learning, carrying out the Government's vision of lifelong learning, using the technology to achieve learning objectives.

It's not a den of piracy and counterfeiting - if it is, then the miscreants deserve everything they get.

We respect copyright; many of us are authors and creators in our own right.

But we don't want our efforts to facilitate learning to be mired in a welter of licences which proliferate rules and regulations with each issue.

Nor do we want to be furtively lurking around photocopiers, computers and scanners, frightened of our own shadows, fearful of infringing a right that has probably been paid for over and over already.

Dare I even suggest that we might pay more to have many of the unnecessary shackles removed?

Alan Rae is training and development executive, Dundee College, and copyright adviser to the Association of Scottish Colleges

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