A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Fact sheet: copyright

We asked the UK Copyright Literacy team to create a guide to copyright for new library professionals. The team are Chris Morrison and Jane Secker. In their day jobs Chris is the Copyright, Software Licensing and Information Services Policy Manager at the University of Kent and Jane is a Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London. They started collaborating on research into copyright literacy in late 2013, and subsequently set up a website to share their research and ideas more widely.

Being asked to write this guide started us thinking what specifically NEW professionals need to know about copyright that might be different to established library and information professionals. The group helpfully crowdsourced a list of topics to structure the fact sheet we were putting together, so the questions are based on what new professionals actually need to know (or at least what they think they need to know).

However, before getting started we wanted to say a few words about our copyright literacy research and what it suggests new professionals specifically might need to know about copyright. One of the findings from the UK copyright literacy survey we undertook in 2014 was that new professionals felt they did not learn enough about copyright at library school. We did some investigation with CILIP who accredit LIS courses, and found that some library qualifications have optional modules about copyright and other legal matters. However, many do not cover copyright in the level of detail that might be needed once you become an information professional. While we would not suggest that copyright should be a compulsory module in library qualifications, it is clearly a topic that librarians need to know more about and in lots of different contexts. This ranges from digitising special collections to dealing with questions about library user behaviour. Luckily there is a lot of continuing professional development around on the topic of copyright, so once you are in a job and find you need to deal with copyright matters you will find no shortage of courses or events on the subject. However, we hope that this post might help fill any gaps you perceive there to be in your education relating to copyright, or at least help point you in the right direction for entering the exciting, white-knuckle thrill ride that is copyright literacy.

What about copyright and photos (specifically “when are pictures out of copyright, does it matter if it’s a company or a person who had the copyright to start with?”)

The question of copyright and images seems to cause a lot of headaches, largely because we all know how easy it is to copy and share images online, via the web or social media. Many people are unaware that images on websites and social media are copyright protected. It is often safest to assume that unless there is a clear indication otherwise, then any images you find online cannot be re-used without permission of the rights holder. There are of course copyright exceptions, that might, provided the use is fair, permit you to copy an image for specific purposes (such as quotation, criticism or review or illustration for instruction). But if you are reproducing an image for use on a website, in a published book or on a library poster, then the use of it without permission is unlikely to be considered fair. Just because you might be using an image for educational or non-commercial purposes doesn’t automatically mean that the copyright owner of the image won’t object and have grounds for taking action. Luckily, growing numbers of organisations, photographers and artists share openly licensed images that can be freely re-used.  Some indications that images are free to use are that they have been clearly labeled as being in the public domain (which means the copyright has expired) or they have a Creative Commons Licence on.

Copyright for artistic works in general (photographs are classed as artistic works in the UK) lasts for 70 years from the death of the creator, so even fairly old photographs may still be in copyright. Calculating the duration of copyright can be complicated as the criteria for doing so also depends on when a photo was taken, which is due to various changes to copyright legislation throughout the 20th Century. (Editors note: in the UK there were copyright acts in 1911, 1956 and the most recent law, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) was passed in 1988. Each of these acts led to changes in what was protected, how this was determined and involved transitional provisions to deal with works created under the previous legislation). If the photograph is credited to an organisation or company rather than an individual, then the duration is more likely to be 70 years from the year it was taken (i.e. it is an anonymous work). But some photographs you find in library and museum collections may have no details about the copyright owner, which means they are may be orphan works (meaning no copyright owner can be traced), so obtaining permission to use these can be almost impossible. If you find yourself working with photographic archival material on a regular basis we recommend getting hold of the Facet book Copyright for Archivists and Records Managers by Tim Padfield, as well as looking at the online resource called the Copyright Cortex, led by Professor Ronan Deazley at Queens University Belfast.

Another complicating factor is that some libraries, museums and galleries may claim copyright in the digitised version of an out-of-copyright image or photograph through their investment in the digitisation process. This means you should check the copyright notices and terms of use on websites very carefully. If you want to find an image of a person or object that you know is openly licensed we recommend using a site such as Europeana, which aggregates links to free to use images from cultural heritage institutions across Europe. Also note that  Wikimedia Commons, has one of the largest collections of images, most of which are public domain or licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike (CC-BY-SA).

What about copyright and memes? How does this work as people seem to be sharing photos with funny captions on the internet prolifically?

People regularly share photos or GIFs on social media with satirical or humorous captions. There are many websites that allow you to generate your own meme such as Memegenerator or imgflip. The terms of use for these services include information about copyright and ask you not to upload content that ‘may infringe any rights of any party, including but not limited to intellectual property rights such as trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, designs and patents’.

However, memes or GIFs that you find online often incorporate copyright images or short animations based on copyright-protected films and TV programmes. Whether you decide to re-post or share these photos is largely down to your understanding and awareness of risk. Just because many other people are sharing an image online, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be responsible for copyright infringement. Online justification for using copyright images in GIFs and memes is usually based on the US legal concept of ‘fair use’. Fair use involves applying a flexible test in which four factors are used to determine whether a specific use of copyright material is fair in situations where the copyright holder has not given permission. The UK doesn’t have fair use, although it does have the concept of fair dealing which serves the same function but within a more limited framework of allowed purposes. This is further complicated by the UK’s obligation to adhere to EU laws and this blog post by IP expert Dr Eleanora Rosati provides the full low down on the copyright status of using GIFs under European law. Note that Eleanora regularly shares GIFs and memes on her website, but does so with a full understanding of the legal implications.

We would advise you to be cautious but pragmatic about your use of memes and GIFs. Sharing them on social media is relatively low risk, but a more permanent use on a website, blog or even a poster you produce for your library is more risky. There is a difference between using copyright content in your own personal capacity and using it when representing the organisation you work for. We’re not saying librarians should be squeaky clean, but if you find yourself in a position where you have to advise others about copyright, it makes sense not to use or share obviously infringing content.

How does copyright work on Twitter?

When you use a social media website such as Facebook or Twitter you are agreeing to use it under their terms of service. This legal contract is what you should refer to in the first instance as it sets out a whole range of acceptable behaviours you are agreeing to as a user of the service, including but not limited to those involving copyright law. Twitter have a copyright policy which you should definitely read if you or your library are sharing photos and other media on this social media platform.

In general most social media services do not ask their users to assign them (i.e. transfer ownership of) the copyright of photos or other content they share, but they do acquire a broad licence to reuse the content in the context of the service. If you sign up to a new platform you should read the terms of service if you are planning to use it to host content that you consider valuable. If you post a photo on your Twitter account then another user does not have permission to copy or download the photo, but the twitter terms of service does allow them to retweet the photo. Sometimes it can be difficult to trace the original source of a quote or image due to the way people may retweet or re-post content. Our advice would be not to share any content on social media that you wish to retain complete control over, or that you consider to be valuable to you. We would also advise that you always provide appropriate credit if you share anything that was made by someone else. Although we’re sure that as informational professionals this is something you would do anyway!

What about copyright on the VLE? How does that work?

Now that is quite a big topic and one you could probably write an entire book about (err… in fact I think we did!). We have also written a blog post for CILIP with our 6 key tips for practitioners related to copyright and e-learning. Although sharing content via a VLE is not the same as posting it on the open web, case law has determined that use of copyright content on a private intranet can still involve ‘communication to the public ‘, which is a restricted act under UK copyright law. VLEs are usually password protected, which reduces but doesn’t eliminate the risk of copyright infringement. It makes it less likely that a rights holder would be aware of the use of their work and also increases the likelihood that any given use is ‘fair’. However, this doesn’t mean copyright laws can be ignored, and the same due diligence should be applied when uploading content to a VLE as you would when uploading it to a public website.

Librarians should also be aware that there are specific provisions in UK copyright law that allow for use of copyright material by educational institutions and those providing instruction. The law underpins licensing schemes such as the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA)’s educational licences which allow copying of limited portions of published copyright works in return for a fee per full time student. The operation of these schemes within institutions is usually the library’s responsibility.

There are also other provisions that allow use of copyright material without permission of the copyright holder under fair dealing exceptions. For example, Section 32 of the CDPA provides a defence against alleged infringement of copyright if the use is for the ‘sole purposes of illustration for instruction’ and is non-commercial in nature. Opinions differ as to exactly what constitutes fairness in this context, and even whether it applies to a VLE or only covers the use of digital presentation software in a classroom. Our opinion is that it does extend to digital uses beyond the classroom, but Chris is currently undertaking further postgraduate research into this very question.

However, it is clear that any substantial use of content that belongs to another person or organisation will require their permission if you wish to post it on the VLE. And if it’s published content from books or journals and you are based in education, then you should become familiar with the terms of the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) licence before uploading or scanning any published content.

How does copyright impact on our work as librarians, and how we can have productive conversations about copyright with either peers, colleagues or library users?

Again this is another really big topic and the key thing for us is to ensure that you do have conversations about copyright. It’s important to have open and honest discussions within your library about what is considered acceptable and what might be risky. Too often we have seen library staff of all grades and with varying levels of experience, feeling unsure about how to deal with copyright, from a professional point of view, but also unsure of how this relates to their institutional policies. Our research found that junior staff often felt on the ‘front line’ of having to police library users’ behaviour, which without a proper understanding of the law or their institution’s attitude to copyright and risk, left them feeling exposed.

We have found that setting up copyright communities of practice has been hugely beneficial in addressing this. Copyright can be complex as well as seeming both restrictive and vague all at the same time. Taking a collective approach to addressing these challenges allows information professionals at all stages in their career to share their experiences, which in turn allows them to interpret and influence institutional policy and culture.

Where can I get further resources and keep myself up to date?

There are loads of places to keep yourself up to date with copyright matters. CILIP run lots of training and events on the topic as do lots of other organisations. If you find yourself taking on a particular speciality for copyright matters then we would highly advise you to join the Jisc mail list LIS-Copyseek. It’s a closed list for information professionals and copyright specialists, and an excellent place to ask questions and share your knowledge and experience with the community. Other sites that we would recommend for copyright matters include:

The Copyrightuser website, which is beautifully designed and has a wide range of guides aimed at different types of creators and copyright users – it also includes a handy guide to copyright for libraries, written by us.

The Copyright Cortex which is a relatively new resource, launched in 2017, for those in libraries and the cultural heritage sector. It’s packed full of information, research and case studies about copyright.

We would also recommend that you seek out other local copyright practitioners, either within your organisation or in neighbouring or similar organisations. And if there is no copyright community of practice in your organisation or local area we would encourage you to set one up. Please get in touch if you’d like some further tips on how to do this.

Finally, the one place we think you should definitely keep a check on is our website We publish regular blog posts, on matters related to copyright education by ourselves and by guest bloggers. We also maintain a list of our publications, ongoing research and events we are taking part in. It’s also the place you can download some of our free teaching resources for copyright education, including Copyright the Card Game and the Publishing Trap.


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This entry was posted on January 23, 2018 by in Fact Sheet and tagged , , , .
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