Building Understanding, Building Confidence: Interview with Chris Morrison on the University of Kent’s Copyright Literacy Strategy

Copyright can all too often seem complicated, scary, or both. Yet having a sense of what it does, and does not permit can help avoid accidental infringements, as well as preventing situations where library users do not take full advantage of the possibilities open to them.

Chris Morrison, at the University of Kent in the UK – co-owner of copyrightliteracy.org – has done extensive work on the subject, as well as co-developing games such as ‘Copyright, the Card Game’ in order to build confidence. He has also played a key role in developing a copyright literacy strategy at the University of Kent, UK. We interviewed him to find out more.

 

What is the state of copyright literacy currently among students, faculty and librarians?

This is difficult to say with certainty. But we did run a survey last year asking our academics how confident they felt in dealing with copyright issues and the majority didn’t feel as confident as they would like to. I certainly still get asked a lot of questions that show people still want clear guidance on how to address copyright issues.

How much appreciation was there of the need for a focused approach to copyright literacy?

As you know, this is something that Jane Secker (City, University of London and co-owner of copyrightliteracy.org) and I have been talking about for some time. Copyright is often not many people’s favourite subject, but when I started talking to colleagues about focussing on a clear institutional vision on copyright literacy they were all very supportive. Everybody seems to have some experience of working with copyright where they have or might benefit from institutional support.

For you, what is the value added of a strategy?

In the past I may have been a bit cynical about strategy documents. They can sometimes seem a bit vague – making obvious statements as part of a box ticking exercise. But after many years of working with copyright, I became convinced that going through a process of making a formal statement would be beneficial. It’s allowed me to present my vision and ideas to my colleagues and incorporate it with their experiences and ideas to create something which I think is really valuable.

What did you need to do to get to the stage of getting this drafted and approved?

We ran the development of the strategy as a project, getting together a representative working group of academic and professional services staff and holding a number of workshops. This allowed us to start off capturing lots of ideas before looking at specific position statements. I then shared drafts with student representatives, as well as experts and peers across the university sector and beyond,  before submitting to the formal approval process at Kent.

How are you approaching the question of balance between exclusive rights and enabling use?

Unsurprisingly this was one of the biggest areas of contention when developing the strategy. Universities use copyright content, but they also generate valuable intellectual property which they may want choose who gets access to and under what terms. When we realised that we weren’t trying to resolve this tension, but acknowledge it and help people make sense of it in the context of their own work, we were able to make progress.

What are you looking forward to most in the implementation?

Other than the satisfaction of a job well done it will be the ability to finally answer the question “but what does the University say about that”? I think this document reflects that a university, or any large institution has multiple perspectives, but that we should ultimately be focusing on our teaching, research and engagement.

What do you think will be most challenging?

We have a huge challenge in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I think the interesting question is whether this strategy actually helps us to do the best work we can.

What does success look like in 5 years’ time?

We have a section on measuring success in the strategy. It’s a difficult thing to pin down in quantitative terms, but we’re planning on capturing lots of case studies and examples of where our approach has helped us.

Is this an experience that you think could be replicated elsewhere – both in the UK and globally?

Yes, I think it could. I’ve already received positive feedback from those who have seen the strategy, some of whom have said they are thinking of doing something similar. The strategy is available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence so others are free to adapt it if they want. But I would recommend going through a proper process of working out what statements might be right for your institution in collaboration with your colleagues and students or users of your library/information service. I certainly wouldn’t recommend adopting a strategy like this as a box ticking exercise.

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