Overcoming the Barriers: CILIP Copyright Conference 

The annual CILIP Copyright Conference is a highlight in a busy conference season for those in the information profession with a responsibility for this area. Held in London on April 5th, this event brought together colleagues from across the UK and further afield to discuss the latest developments in copyright and intellectual property and how we move forward from our current position. I was lucky enough to be able to attend this year in order to find out about recent changes and feed this back to the Cambridge (and wider) library community.

There were many excellent presentations but in the interests of brevity, I’m going to highlight my top three themes from the conference:

  • Copyright education
  • Open data and copyright
  • The UK Scholarly Communication Licence(UK-SCL)

Copyright education

Educating both library users and staff in copyright can be a challenge, something I was pleased to see acknowledged at the conference. From my own experience teaching in this area I think this is down to a mixture of complicated terminology and a narrow perception of what copyright actually deals with.

When I’ve talked to library staff about copyright in the past it has often been at cross purposes – I’m usually looking at helping to support researchers in the use of third party material in their thesis or signing copyright transfer agreements whereas most staff are focused on what can be uploaded to the VLE or how much of a text can be legally copied.

Copyright is a multi-faceted concept with a great deal of intersections so it can be hard to know where to start without overwhelming people. Luckily several of the presentations focused on the issue of copyright education.

Copyright is complicated and is often seen as a barrier to helping students and researchers to achieve their goals. When teaching about it we need to turn these perceptions around and promote copyright as a help rather than a hindrance.  One way of doing this is to reframe the message that we are sharing with our user communities. There is no one size fits all message when it comes to copyright and we need to invest the time to make sure that we are tailoring the message to different audiences – for example what a researcher will need to know about copyright is different from what administrators need to know.

Debbie McDonnell from the British Council highlighted an innovative approach in her presentation on Managing Copyright in an International Organisation Working in the Educational and Cultural Sectors. When she began her role she conducted a training survey to better understand the needs of her users. In response to their need for basic information she created several short videos in order to explain key concepts in the context of her service, helping members of staff to understand why copyright is important to them in their roles. As McDonnell rightly points out staff awareness is the biggest barrier to a successful copyright service. We cannot expect staff to manage copyright well if they are not fully informed about the need for it.

This message was echoed by Alex Fenlon from the University of Birmingham who talked about A Day in the Life of a Copyright/Licensing Expert. The University is about to open a new overseas campus which has raised a variety of copyright issues relating to the licensing of material. Fenlon encouraged us not to view copyright as a barrier to teaching and research activity and to pass this message on to our users. When asked if we can do something say yes and then use copyright exemptions and other rules to explore how to make this happen.

Open data and copyright

Keynote Josie Fraser, Senior Technology Advisor in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, encouraged us not to think of data as the new oil – a metaphor I’ve come across before. Even though both data and oil need to be extracted, both create new industries and have an impact on wider society, and both power their respective industries. there are differences between them. While oil is a finite resource, data is effectively infinitely durable and reusable. That said, both can lead to powerful oligopolies emerging which dominate the landscape, something we have seen in recent times with companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook.

The economy of data was something also highlighted by Carol Tullo, a consultant at Naomi Korn Copyright and Compliance,  in her talk on Organisational Governance of Information Assets which made the point that data is treated like a currency in today’s society. Companies are already wanting to see information about us in order to build up a picture of our habits and in the future our data may well be how we pay to use services. We can already see examples of this when use public Wi-Fi where there is usually an option to log in with various social media accounts. Many people see this as an easy option as they don’t have to create a new account for something they are only going to use for a short time but how much of our data are we giving away by using this method? The issue of third party access to our data is something which has been in the press a lot recently and serves as a timely reminder of what we could be giving away.

The resulting discussion around the potential conflict between open data and copyright was an interesting one from a scholarly communication perspective. Researchers are actively encouraged to share both their data and their finished papers as widely as possible but are often wary of letting others ‘steal’ their ideas. For many, copyright is seen as a protection mechanism but are they missing the point? Fraser argued that the time we spend locking down data could be better spent making sure it was shared openly. Data is created to be used and “open data and content can be freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose”. Large companies are gathering their own data and are less likely to be interested in the outputs of researchers but the smaller companies and start-ups could find this really valuable and use it to build something new. Using open licenses on data and other materials can help to encourage this innovation and protect the rights of the creator at the same time.


The final main theme of the day concerned the UK Scholarly Communication Licence which featured in a number of talks. Chris Banks from Imperial College London highlighted the currently confusing policy landscape (referencing our own work in this area). The UK-SCL aims to make the process of open access and the licensing of work more straightforward for all by offering a default license to authors which allows them to retain copyright whilst at the same time allowing the institution to make the author accepted manuscript available via a CC-BY-NC 4.0 license. This means that with a single action the author can publish with their journal of choice, retain more rights to their own work, use it in their teaching, meet the requirements of funders and REF and minimise overall reliance on hybrid Open Access. Quite an achievement!

There has been a positive response from the community and the next steps include working with research funders to see how this can be taken forward. One point that Banks did highlight was that discussions around the UK-SCL had resulted in a lightning rod effect by attracting attention to the wider conversation around Open Access. This can only be a positive as we work to engage more people in these important discussions.

The day also provided plenty of practical tips on rights clearance, dealing with moving images and the potential impact of Brexit. For more information on these, my full (live) notes from the conference can be found here and presentations from all sessions can be found on the CILIP website.

Published 8 May 2018
Written by Claire Sewell
Creative Commons License

*Note – an amendment to this blog post was made at 17.12 on 8 May to better reflect the emphasis of Josie Fraser’s talk as per her comment below.

One thought on “Overcoming the Barriers: CILIP Copyright Conference 

  1. Really enjoyed giving this talk, which included a discussion of why people make the argument that data is the new oil, and why this isn’t a very useful analogy, especially when we are thinking about open in the context of digital economies.

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