Copyright Compliance on Campus: Make It Easy

By Laura Gasaway
Law Professor and Director of the Law Library, University of North Carolina

I applaud Diane Barbour’s article “Online Piracy, Ethical Behavior, and the Unintended Consequences of Technology” in the 6/8/2005 issue of C2. Of course, illegal sharing of music and videos by students garners most of the attention—and the concern—devoted to campus copyright infringement. But adherence to copyright law, particularly in the use of course management systems by faculty and staff, also is critically important.

There are three common copyright phenomena on campuses today: compliance, infringement and, mostly, confusion. I frequently receive inquiries from faculty on my campus and from institutions around the country seeking guidance on the secondary use of copyrighted articles and book chapters as they prepare electronic course materials.

A primary reason for the confusion: Course management systems are used by professors who typically have not had copyright training. Many know neither what they may or may not do, nor the legal risks to which they expose themselves and their universities. The result can be infringement, both accidental and willful. But sometimes the result can be over-compliance. For example, a course management system user might pay for permission to reuse copyrighted content within his or her course materials to which the university already has access under a direct licensing agreement with a publisher or aggregator. This is an easy mistake to make because e-journals are licensed rather than sold, and the provisions of a license for a given publication can be complex. Another common instance of over-compliance: purchase of copyright permission for the first-time use of copyrighted materials, which is not always required. (Details on reproduction of copyrighted works for the classroom under copyright guidelines can be found at

A key to overcoming these problems, I believe, is to create easy ways for end users to follow the law and support creators’ intellectual property rights—using means that dovetail with the workflow of applications. New information and entertainment technologies make it easy to incorporate copyrighted works within course management systems. So, copyright permission capability should be built into the technology in a way that’s straightforward and non-disruptive.

One good example is the recent effort of the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) and Blackboard to offer copyright permissions capabilities within the Blackboard Learning System ( It places licensing where it’s needed: within the workflow of the course management system, where faculty and staff engage in the e-learning development process. There are other examples, among them: CCC’s licensing capabilities are included in Docutek ERes electronic reserve application and OCLC’s ILLiad interlibrary loan system.

Copyright awareness should be an integral part of our institutions’ codes of ethical conduct, as well as a life lesson we teach our students. The integration of copyright permissions into the everyday use of new educational and entertainment technology helps us toward these goals.

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