Prepare to repel plans, there be 'piracy' on the horizon

Coalition desire to expand range of copyright-free material angers academics. Matthew Reisz reports

February 9, 2012

Academic authors have claimed that proposed changes to copyright "add insult to injury" and amount to officially sanctioned "piracy".

Under the current system, schools and universities pay a small annual fee for a general right to copy and reuse large amounts of published material. The funds generated are distributed through the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.

However, plans have been tabled by the government to widen the scope for copyright exceptions, provoking stiff opposition.

Chris Hackley, professor of marketing at Royal Holloway, University of London, said his textbooks "generate a very modest royalty...so the ALCS fees for copying offer a small compensation that allows me to justify continuing the dissemination of my work in textbooks.

"The very modest fees I receive from the ALCS for the copying of my journal articles are also very important, since they constitute the only monetary compensation I receive for these. Granted, journal papers are necessary to my career, so I benefit indirectly from them, but this original work is exploited lucratively by academic publishers and denying me the ALCS fee for copying would add insult to injury."

Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at the University of Oxford, said her numerous books, chapters in edited volumes and journal articles had been used by students from A level to graduate level.

Although she had sometimes published under a Creative Commons licence, allowing wider distribution of her work, this "has usually been in order to make the work accessible to students in parts of the world where they genuinely cannot afford to pay what Western publishers charge", she said.

She did not accept that "every teacher and student in every UK school or university should be equally free to benefit from my - and other writers' - unpaid labour".

Professor Cameron added: "That is exploitation. [Apart from the fact] that the government proposes to make it legal, I do not see it as much different from piracy.

"It certainly encourages the attitude that makes piracy such an endemic problem - [the idea] that creative, cultural and intellectual products are an exception to the general rule, which says you must pay for whatever you consume...If that view is institutionalised in education, there will be no incentive for academics to use their time, skills and knowledge for the benefit of students other than the ones they are directly employed to teach."

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the Church at Oxford, said that during the past year he had "surrendered 80 per cent of my university salary in order to free myself from many academic duties, and to concentrate on thinking, writing and broadcasting".

"Part of my confidence in making this sacrifice...was the sense that I could derive a reliable income from a number of sources based on my past writing, one element of which was my income from the ALCS," he said.

"Against what could be seen as a 'good' - the free availability of knowledge to students and teachers - I think that there is a greater good, the biblical principle that the labourer is worthy of his hire."

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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