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Copyright and Web 2.0 publishing

Archway building blossom

The advent of blogs, wikis and the 'social web' means everyone with an internet connection the ability to share information and resources with the world. And, given that it can take a few clicks to re-use an image, a section of text, or a video, it is more vital than ever for us to understand our rights and responsibilities as creators and users of copyright material. There is an inherent tension between web 2.0, designed for users to share information, and copyright, which vests exclusive control over copying and re-use with the creator of a work.

Here are some things for staff to keep in mind when publishing material on the internet. Students and others might find some useful tips too.

Who owns what? - terms of use

If you've ever read (and managed to understand) the terms of use for YouTube or Facebook or other site that relies on user-generated content you'll know that you, the user, retain copyright in your own original photos, text or other contributions. The terms will also usually require you to ensure that you have the right to use the content in question. You will also give them permission to re-use that material in order to run their site.

If you run your own site that others can contribute to then you should make your users aware what rights apply to what they upload. Think about questions like: whether the content is on an open page or behind a password? Do contributors retain ownership of the material they upload? How can other users re-use material contributed by others? Are there privacy issues? It is good practice to inform people about these things when they start using a site, so consider writing up your own 'rules' or guidance for behaviour.

Check the following Otago examples:

  • Marine Metre Squared - a citizen science project where users from across the country contribute text, photos and data that others can re-use, as explained in the terms of use.
  • Open Otago blog - where all material (see left panel) is contributed on the understanding that a creative commons licence is applied.

Publishing within a restricted environment

If you are publishing material within Blackboard or within the University's blogging service (using the password-restricted option) you are working within an educational context, which allows you the rights to reproduce materials afforded by the special licences the University has and by the provisions of the Copyright Act that allow copying for certain educational purposes. Essentially this means you can copy for your students any of the types of material detailed in the coursepacks page.

Publishing where others can access material (not just staff and students)

If you publish via a more open medium (like YouTube, Twitter, UniTube, or even the University's own blogging service without the password option) then you no longer have these permissions outlined above granted automatically. This is because the University's licences only grant permission to copy materials for students enrolled in the relevant course of study. And you are not able to draw on the provisions of the Copyright Act for copying for educational purposes because those provisions only allow communication to your students.

If you publish via an open medium, in theory, anyone in the world can access the material you post. Facebook or similar media, where you can restrict access to a set of people you define, would not be acceptable because this would still give access to non-students (unless you set up a group restricted to your students).

In order to understand what you can put on a blog or other site that people other than students and staff have access to, familiarise yourself with the following: