There it was, sitting with the rest of the morning's mail - a smart brown envelope, nicely-typed address and a comfortable weight to it. What could it be? The latest report on the academic conquest of cyberspace? A nifty new set of units from the Scottish Vocational Education Council? The definitive guide to quality performance vocational workplace-based indicators? No such luck - it was a 31-page tome from the Newspaper Licensing Agency, detailing the photocopying scheme now to be imposed on education and industry.
With the other fairly recent newcomer to educational licensing, the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), this now brings to 10 the number of licences that colleges of Further Education are supposed to adhere to. Where is it all going to end?
The 1988 Copyright Patents Designs Act was supposed to bring order to the copyright chaos brought about by the anachronistic 1956 Act and the 60s, 70s, and 80s boom in copying technology, but if 10 licences is a sign of order, may I please opt for chaos?
This new licensing scheme from the NLA is a cracker. It covers a reasonably comprehensive list of newspapers. But where are the Times International titles, where are Scotland's national newspapers and what about the regionals which are used by media studies departments just as much as the nationals as sources? Are we still to deal with them on an individual basis, just as we have done since the introduction of the Copyright Licensing Scheme, which in its wisdom, put newspapers on its exclusion list?
So although we now have a newspaper scheme, it also introduces, by omission, its own exclusion list. Isn't it possible for someone, somewhere to give us a blanket licence? I concede that we do have such an animal from Ordnance Survey and British Standards Institute, and the Educational Recording Agency cover the majority of TV and radio broadcasts (with the blips of Open University, some satellite and cable), but overall, the licences often omit more than they cover.
The first exclusion list we encountered as licensees was from the grand-daddy of all licensing bodies, the Copyright Licensing Agency. With much fanfare and ballyhoo, CLA announced itself to a very apprehensive academic world in 1987. With some tinkering of the original scheme, we have ended up with a blanket permission to make multiple copies of up to 5 per cent or one chapter of a text, one article per issue from a periodical - and not a lot else. We can't copy from books on the CLA's excluded list nor can we copy from any of the exclusions such as industrial house journals, newspapers, exam papers, open learning material and maps.
That's not to say that some very helpful publishers of house journals or newspapers won't allow us to make multiple copies - I have files bulging with correspondence over negotiated permissions - it just means we can't do it under the CLA licence, which now turns out to be more of a pillowcase than a blanket.
Under our CLA licence (currently costing my college Pounds 9,000 a year), we could "make multiple copies of up to 5 per cent of one chapter of a text". Putting aside all the distractions of the excluded texts and the other categories of exclusions, that seems fairly straightforward. But hey, wait a minute! What do you mean, you want to make five or more copies of four or more extracts from texts, bind them and give them to your students? Haven't you heard of CLARCS (CLA Rapid Clearing Scheme)?
What is CLARCS? Why it's the scheme you've to subscribe to if you want to photocopy material from books and texts. But isn't that the basis of the CLA scheme I hear you ask? Of course it is, but if you want to produce five or more copies of a collection of four or more text extracts, you now have to phone CLA in London and be prepared to pay a premium over and above your institution's annual subscription to CLA.
And just for a little devilment, the next time you have to contact a publisher's rights department, ask them to explain CLARCS to you. Let's hope it's a publisher who even knows what the CLA is!
I fully understand the arguments about republishing and the threat to book sales if this kind of collective copying and distribution gets out of hand, but five copies of four extracts? My little collection of extracts on three-point lighting for my video production students is hardly likely to threaten the major publishers. Anyway, I distribute them in successive weeks and let the students decide whether they should be bound together - and what happened to giving extracts that would encourage students to ask for the book at the college library, or encourage them to go and buy the text?
Of the 10 licences we hold, or are about to hold, four cover photocopying, three deal with music, two with TV and one with slides. Where are the licences dealing with scanning and manipulation of images? Where are the agreements that will guide us gently through the Internet and World Wide Web? If the individual and site licences we already hold from software companies are anything to go by, make space in your establishment for the local solicitors to set up a permanent branch.
Why can't the 43 Scottish colleges get together and do something about this mess? We represent a large body of staff and students pursuing a vast range of subjects - we must have some clout. We'd have even more if we were to throw in our lot, purely on a copyright licensing basis with higher education. But then again, the newly-formed Scottish Association for Colleges is involved in a classic "yes it is, no it isn't, yes it is, no it isn't" argument with Phonographic Performance Limited over whether the college's charitable status should exempt us from what is a negligible sum of money. Our "charitable status" cuts no mustard with the big players, so what's the fuss about? Let's get our act together, either on our own or with HE and start negotiations with the major licensing bodies to think about one-payment blanket licences.
If FE continues to publish its own material through flexible, open and distance-learning we do have to think again about our dealings with our licensors because we will then be charging for material extracted from a third party, but that's usually done on an individual basis with publishers, composers, artists, designers and their agents.
Wouldn't it be so nice for that next comfortably-weighted, smart brown envelope with the nicely-typed address to be a single licence for FE and HE staff to extract a negotiated amount of material from all sources for use to help both teaching and learning? Wouldn't it be nice to win the lottery, sink a 20ft putt on the last green of the Open to beat Nick Faldo, score the winning goal for Scotland in the final of Euro 96, see purple-spotted pigs take to the air? Wouldn't it be so nice to see Scottish FE and HE have some say in what suits the teachers and learners for a change?
(Note to the Editor of TESS - are you joining the NLA or can we still rely on your co-operation allowing us to extract material from the paper for our class use?) Alan Rae is head of learning resources at Dundee College