Lecturers creating electronic course packs will be able to clear copyright on material scanned in from printed books and journals, under a licensing scheme launched last week by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
The CLA is working on a series of schemes for sectors of industry and education, that will permit the creation, storage and exploitation of digital versions made from printed works. The agency's chief executive, Peter Shepherd, said the electronic licence had been developed in response to requests from photocopy licensees.
The first electronic licences will be offered to higher education and the pharmaceuticals sector. CLA will also administer, in association with the Royal National Institute for the Blind, a scheme to meet the special needs of the visually impaired. A modified version for further education needs is planned.
"Digitisation offers users greater use of published material for little extra cost, and publishers have a duty to increase their readership," said Rene Olivieri, Blackwell Publishers' managing director, who sees this initiative as significant because authors, publishers and users have reached an agreement by understanding of mutual needs.
Scanning paper books and journals produces image files that are an exact (though perhaps less sharp) replica of the printed version. The CLA scheme not only covers image files but extends to text files created from them by optical character recognition (OCR). Text files are searchable and generally more useful. Because they are more compact than image files, they are more suitable for distribution over a campus network. But as OCR is error-prone, licensees will be required to append a notice warning that the digitised copy may differ from the original.
Edward Barrow, CLA's business development manager for new technologies, explained that no payment would be required to join the scheme, but institutions would be asked to sign an agreement. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals is understood to be giving its approval to these terms. Publishers using the standard agreement will be free to set their own prices.
The scheme meets a transitional need and will not apply to material published electronically, for which separate arrangements must be made with publishers.
When designing 1999/2000 course material, lecturers will give bibliographic details to their library which will contact the CLA to check whether the material is available in digital form. The CLA will quote for permission to make a digital copy, calculating a usage charge based on the number of students on the course. A database of material digitised by different universities is planned.
Institutions wanting to give students 24-hour access to course materials now must weigh the costs of running a wired campus and paying for electronic copies against the expense of the alternative, which is to extend library opening hours.