Jobwatch: Copyright Caretaker

September 3, 2004

Brunel University will be one of the first institutions to employ an officer specifically to oversee copyright issues and digital output across all departments. Chris Johnston reports.

With the advent of online file-swapping and record companies' attempts to stop music fans downloading the latest tracks for free, copyright law has repeatedly hit the headlines in recent months.

While the recording industry is belatedly trying to come to terms with the way technology is radically altering its business model, universities are also waking up to the fact that e-learning and digitisation are raising difficult copyright issues.

Brunel University is one of the first to take a decisive step to ensure that the institution as a whole is complying with copyright law by appointing a copyright and digital resources officer.

The successful applicant for the new post, advertised in last week's Times Higher , will have a university-wide remit and will be required to pay particular attention to electronic copyright.

Nick Bevan, director of library services at Brunel, says the university uses WebCT as its e-learning platform, and staff increasingly want to adapt resources for use within the environment and then share them with colleagues. However, that often raises copyright issues that library and e-learning staff are not always able to deal with effectively.

After discussions between the library, computer centre, the secretary and registrar's office and e-learning staff, a decision was taken to create a role dedicated to the issue, Mr Bevan says. It was not a reaction to instances where copyright breaches had been exposed but rather an attempt to bring coherence to its management across the institution, he explains.

The appointee may come from a library background, Mr Bevan says, or from the publishing or electronic copyright fields. He or she will also be responsible for ensuring the university adheres to software licensing agreements.

Mr Bevan says the advent of institutional repositories, in which researchers can make their papers freely available to users both in and outside their university, also raises copyright issues. Many journals retain copyright over articles, although some are now allowing authors to post their work on institutional websites as well.

However, Mr Bevan believes that university libraries will continue to be forced into buying key journals, no matter how much their prices rise, until the criteria for the research assessment exercise are revised.

Academics must have their work published in recognised publications for it to be eligible for consideration. "There is a strong case for the criteria to change," he says.

The recommendations of the Commons select committee report on academic journals are a step in the right direction, according to Mr Bevan. He says he hopes that the Government will listen.

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