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Sharing teaching materials through social media: an Intellectual Property expert explains


This article originally appeared on the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Higher Education blog, and is reproduced with permission.

Since copyright protects books, films, music, art, and images, we evidentially need to use copyright-protected works in our teaching for illustration, reference, and resource.

Surprisingly, the teachers and lecturers I have talked to tend to have one of two thoughts on this. The first being a risk-averse approach which avoids using any copyright material for fear of infringement, and the second assuming that all kinds of use of others’ work “must be fine because it’s for teaching.”. Actually, neither would be completely correct – the law provides a number of copyright exceptions for education which allows certain uses of copyright-protected materials in certain circumstances. (Here is a video we made on where teachers and students talk about their experience with copyright.)

On top of this, social media is being increasingly used in the classroom, and as a medium for teaching and learning. So, what does that mean in relation to the types of uses that are allowed under the educational exception? Read on to find out...

Copyright materials for educational use

The copyright exceptions for using materials in education is pretty narrow.

According to government guidance, “minor uses, such as displaying a few lines of poetry on an interactive whiteboard, will be permitted, but uses which would undermine sales of teaching materials will still need a licence.”

The law states that it is okay to use work protected by copyright under these conditions:

  1. the work must be used solely to illustrate a point
  2. the use of the work must not be for commercial purposes
  3. the use must be “fair” (which broadly speaking means that you only used what you needed in order to illustrate the point, without prejudice of the rights of the author)
  4. it must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.

For more details on the remit of the exceptions, see here.

The copyright exceptions for educational use only apply where a relevant licence is not available. You can check with your University Library, but it is likely that your University has licences such as the following:

  • a HE licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency, for copying extracts of books for the students
  • a licence from the Educational Recording Agency for television broadcasts for use within a classroom.

These licences also come with their own caveats, so it’s important to find out which licences and/or exceptions you are relying on in your teaching. If a University is found to be infringing copyright, it risks fines, legal fees, the cost of resources, as well as possible reputational damage.

Using social media in teaching and learning

Social media platforms are becoming more commonly used in teaching: as a way to communicate with students, or as a method of assessment for example. I actually teach social media law, so it would be crazy not to engage with students using social media. I use it in several ways such as an online discussion group and setting the students a task which involves creating a ‘lawyer–client’ interaction on a social media platform of their choice.

As well as being convenient, the benefits of using social media in the classroom include things such as increasing communication and open discussion, engaging students through current media, and creating collaborative and experiential learning opportunities. I personally think it can be a beneficial tool, but should be used purposefully and with thought.

There are many things to consider when deciding how and in what way to engage students through social media. One of these is certainly the copyright implications.

As mentioned above, the copyright exceptions and licences that regulate the use of copyright protected material allow certain types of uses in certain circumstances; mostly they apply within the walls of the classroom, between teacher and student. So, if you upload your teaching materials to Facebook with copyright images or a recording of your lecture to YouTube that contains music or film clips, you’re likely outside the remit of the permissions.

One of the issues with using social media is that once you upload content to a platform, you grant them the right to share it (under the user agreement – for more on this, see 10 things you should know about Instagram’s terms of use). So, this could mean you are licensing your work without knowing it or – worse – sub-licensing someone else’s work without permission!

One thing to note is that there are other copyright exceptions that might help us out. For example, there is a fair dealing exception for quotation, criticism and review which might apply in certain circumstances.

Overall, it is worth getting to know the remits of the exceptions and licenses available to you and bearing that in mind when using social media in your teaching. Social media can be a valuable teaching device to enhance student experience and engagement, as long as you appropriately mitigate the risks.

Find out more about Dr Hayleigh Bosher's expertise, and about the Brunel Law School.

(Image: CC BY 2.0 by Flickr/SCuLE Centre)

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