If I may beg your patience while I tell a bit of a story….

There is nine years difference between my brother and I. When we were younger, he went to the secondary school across the road, while I went to a primary school that was a car-ride away. This meant he always got home before me. Often his best friend would be with him, and the two played computer games sat at an Amstrad in my brother’s room. 

My brother had one desk chair in his room, and I had another in mine. They were real 80s charmers – black metal poles curved to support pinstripe grey cushions. Obviously if he and his mate were to play computer games together they would need two chairs. Therefore my brother often came home, and took my chair from my room.

I remember being utterly apoplectic about this. Total face-melting tantrum. I’d throw myself on the floor outside his room and whine my head off until the chair was returned. What an awful child you must be thinking?!

I often think about this incident now that I work in copyright. No, it’s not because someone in the office keeps taking my chair. While I can happily acknowledge that I over-egged the tantrums, I can still tune in to an indignity I felt at that time – my brother hadn’t asked if he could use my stuff. That’s why I think of it so much now that I work with copyright. The principle is the same.

Copyright law means that you need to check before you can use someone’s ‘stuff’ – their intellectual property. There are limited occasions when you don’t need to check permission – the copyright exceptions – or the creator might publish their work as ‘open’ so that you don’t need to ask, but broadly speaking this still needs checking, and often a creator’s work will be protected by copyright. There’s a range of reasons why the creator might do this, their economic livelihood being one. Think of the time, effort and expertise that might be poured into a novel. Think of the despair you might feel if someone used that creation without asking first.

But that’s quite hard on you as a user isn’t it? What if you want to copy a chapter of a book? You have to find the creator, ask for their permission and wait for a response? What if one creator charges more money than another?

That’s where CLA comes in, and the blanket Education Licence that lets you copy extracts from materials your institution owns. If copyright law restricts what you can do, the CLA Licence is the enabler that gives you the permission you might need – quickly and easily. The creator is paid royalty payments from our licence fees (minus our operating costs) and you get access to the materials you need.

Should I have licensed the use of my chair? Of course not – I hadn’t made it after all – and he is my bother! – but it’s easy to lose sight of what copyright means – new technology has made it easier than ever before to copy and re-use. But at its heart it’s easy enough to understand – please check before you use my stuff.