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 2014, 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 the fair dealing exceptions for illustration, criticism or review are now clearer. Licences may be required to show or play recorded broadcasts during lessons, and to photocopy or scan 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 published content.

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. Here is just a sample of the sorts of questions which crop up:

Q: Can we use book covers on a poster and Instagram to promote books to our student and teacher community?

A: Book covers are generally considered artistic works and are covered by copyright. There isn’t a legal exception or a licence available to use them so to follow the letter of the law you would need to ask permission. Unfortunately, knowing where to go to ask permission is tricky. Not all publishers own the rights to the artistic work and often cannot grant permission, or they simply do not reply at all. I would encourage a risk-based approach to this; promoting the books around campus and on an institutional Instagram account may be deemed low enough risk, and from a practical point of view, the chances of a publisher objecting are relatively small, as it helps to promote their product.

Q: Can a teacher/lecturer use their own Netflix account to show a Netflix original film?

A: As streaming services grow in popularity, the quality of the shows created by them has also increased. Fortunately for the education sector, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) contains an exception for the playing and showing of films for the purposes of instruction to teachers, students and others who are directly connected with the establishment (not parents though). Even though the medium is different, there should be no distinction between playing a DVD (which has its own copyright statement at the start) and logging in to a Netflix account to show a film to students. 

Q: A teacher/lecturer wants to use a whole article from a news publication to set an exam question. Is this allowed or do we have to pay?

A: Use of copyright works in examinations is covered by an exception in the CDPA. Section 32 states that “giving or receiving instruction” includes setting examination questions, communicating the questions to pupils and answering the questions. Advice from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) states that you may copy as much as is necessary for the purpose, and if a whole article is required, that would be considered fair dealing for this purpose.

Q: Can we upload YouTube videos to our VLE so that we can make them interactive, e.g. by adding quizzes to them?

A: There are several facets to this question which I will deal with in turn. Firstly – if you are uploading then you must have downloaded. It is a breach of Google’s Terms and Conditions to download a YouTube video unless it is for personal, non-commercial purposes, and so to re-upload a video would be an infringement. However, some YouTube videos are licensed with a Creative Commons licence. Some of these licences permit the creation of derivative works, which would therefore be permitted.  If you do a search in YouTube and then use the ‘Filters’ to select ‘Creative Commons’ from the Features area, you will get a list of results which have been CC-licensed. You can see which type of licence has been applied by looking at the description of the video, and near the bottom it will tell you. I suspect it is unlikely that the videos your teachers/lecturers want to use will be CC-licensed, so it is inadvisable to download YouTube content and re-upload it without the permission of the video owner.

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: the CLA’s Copyright & Schools website is very user-friendly and tries to answer questions teachers and librarians may have; and CopyrightUser is a non-biased website providing detailed information on each exception in copyright. Incidentally, the 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!


Disclaimer: Please note that this blog post should not be considered as legal advice and should not be relied on when determining whether a particular use of work would infringe copyright, nor is it the advice of CLA who are hosting the blog post.