Threatened by Copyright

Image result for copyright iconCopyright statements are often created at the university level. For example, the following text is the Long Copyright Statement available from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas:

Copyright laws and Fair Use policies protect the rights of those who have produced the material. Whether it be a book, a monograph, a photograph, a sound recording or an Internet web page, the owner/creator of that work has the right to be protected under the laws of copyright and fair use. Likewise, your work is protected under the law. Just as you cannot use copyrighted material without permission, somebody else cannot use your copyrighted material without your permission.

The University requires all members of the University Community to familiarize themselves and to follow copyright and fair use requirements. YOU ARE INDIVIDUALLY AND SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR VIOLATIONS OF COPYRIGHT AND FAIR USE LAWS. THE UNIVERSITY WILL NEITHER PROTECT NOR DEFEND YOU NOR ASSUME ANY RESPONSIBILITY FOR EMPLOYEE OR STUDENT VIOLATIONS OF COPYRIGHT AND FAIR  USE LAWS. Violations of copyright laws could subject you to federal and state civil penalties and criminal liability as well as disciplinary action under University policies. 1

Though copyright violations are undoubtedly serious offenses, the ALL CAPS text of the statement is unnecessarily threatening. Combine statements like these with the gray areas of Fair Use and long, complicated academic misconduct policies, and the results are a decidedly negative spin on the subject of intellectual property. Do not make a mistake when it comes to copyright… or else.

The ACRL Framework for information literacy recognizes this problem by stating:

The novice learner may struggle to understand the diverse values of information in an environment where “free” information and related services are plentiful and the concept of intellectual property is first encountered through rules of citation or warnings about plagiarism and copyright law. 2

To be fair, the above Long Copyright Statement from UNLV does mention that students also have the rights to their own copyrighted material, but do many students know that they are producing materials to which copyright applies?

Students do need instruction in copyright and intellectual property, but it would be a mistake to think of them as mere consumers of information. Many students are already creating multimedia, 3D models, and programming code. Some even have thousands of followers in online communities who appreciate their works. Their expertise in sharing content should be augmented by instruction which informs them about their rights as creators rather than threatening them with academic and legal consequences. Supporting student creators has the potential to stimulate new avenues of scholarly communication and produce individuals who are knowledgeable in the realm of intellectual property, taking that knowledge with them into their future professions.

  1. University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Office of the Executive Vice President & Provost. Long copyright statement, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.unlv.edu/provost/copyright/statements
  2. ACRL, Framework for information literacy for higher education, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/issues/infolit/Framework_ILHE.pdf

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