Simplifying copyright through digital technology

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Alexandra Reed explains how the Copyright Licensing Agency is streamlining copyright clearance for the academic community

Over the last decade, the responsibilities and working landscape for librarians and research managers operating in higher education have changed dramatically.

Recognising the increased challenges and the evolving responsibilities of higher education institutions (HEIs), the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) is seeking to make the whole business of copyright compliance easier. To this end, it is investing in new digital technology with the aim of saving time for those obtaining clearances. 

It can be a long and difficult task when asked to obtain permissions to copy additional content. It has previously been common practice that, when seeking clearance to use an additional extract or chapter requested by an academic for a course, the librarian or research manager would have to gain permission through costly third-party agents or by dealing directly with the publisher.

This back-and-forth negotiation can prove to be time-consuming and, at the end of it all, may not even prove to be fruitful. Further difficulty can arise when dealing with digital content. The growth of original born-digital content over the past few years has been significant. Yet, while the digital world seems to offer endless possibility to access information, this content is still subject to a licence or other permission.

Problems can arise when it is not always clear who to contact when seeking clearances, rendering some content seemingly inaccessible.

The CLA has sought to reduce this at times frustrating process by using technology to bring the user and content together. Over the first half of this academic year, the CLA has piloted the new Second Extract Permissions Service with HEIs. The service simplifies the process of gaining additional permissions by giving HEIs the option to buy permissions to copy and use a ‘second extract’, which amounts to another chapter/article or another five per cent, of both print and digital content. Currently available to any institution with a CLA Higher Education Licence, this service is offered on an easy-to-use digital platform; registration and account set up is free.

Licensed higher education customers simply locate the title they wish to copy using CLA’s Check Permissions online search tool, and a simple ‘traffic light’ icon shows if a second extract is available to buy for that title. Once the extract has been selected the system displays the pricing straight away. Extracts are priced per page, per student, with the rate being set by the publisher. There is a service fee of £4 per transaction.

In our continuing efforts to simplify access to copyright licensed content CLA is currently working with HEIs, publishers and technology partners to develop another rights, technology and content platform; the Digital Content Store. This new platform will enable HE librarians to upload and manage PDF extracts, discover those uploaded by other HE users, and run usage reports for content use; transforming the way in which librarians, academics and students can use content under the CLA Higher Education Licence. 

This platform will offer a more efficient way for HEI’s to access and store digital copies and remove time-costly administration. This service is currently in a development stage, being trialled by five universities around the UK, including Edinburgh, pictured left. We plan to roll out the service to all universities by August 2016; some 25 per cent of HEIs are already signed up to the Second Extract Permissions Service.

Case study: University of Edinburgh E-Reserve team

About the team

Edinburgh’s E-Reserve team started with Scarles as a one-man operation, but the team grew over the years and now features several other full and part-time members of staff.

Prior to the introduction of the CLA Scanning Licence in the mid-2000s, the team obtained copyright clearance for scanning through contacting publishers directly, or using CCC’s online rights clearance services.

With the introduction and evolution of the CLA Higher Education Licence, the support materials and especially the Check Permissions online search tool, life has become easier in recent years and now it is relatively simple to see what is covered under the licence. This means extracts and articles can be made available to academics and students alike with a minimum of checks and, in most cases, there is no need to contact publishers directly.

However, where an extract is required that is greater than the amount permitted under the Licence, it has still been necessary to clear the rights through the publishers.

Early adopters

When CLA’s Second Extract Permissions Service was launched in June this year, Edinburgh was one of the first HEIs to sign-up: ‘We were keen to sign-up early to see if the service could make the copyright clearance process faster and more efficient,’ Scarles says.

While publishers would normally say yes to a request, the process of obtaining direct permission was a slow one, and the Second Extract Permissions Service offered a way to streamline the process. Scarles explains: ‘The fact that availability is clear from the moment of checking the identifier in the Check Permissions search tool, means that there is no need to fill in lots of detail to find out if it is even possible to obtain clearance.  The fact that the quote is delivered immediately also appeals. This allows us to approach the academic in question while the request is still fresh in their mind, and copying can be instantaneous.’

Scarles has found the service straightforward and easy to use, and he notes that CLA has responded to feedback by making the login area more prominent on the homepage of CLA’s Higher Education website. Perhaps as a result of using CCC’s services previously, Stuart has found the whole experience of clearing additional extracts simple, and while extra course detail is needed to calculate a quote, this is not wasted time because availability of clearance is confirmed at the outset of the process.

The University of Edinburgh uses an external software system to create and manage some reading lists, so digitisation requests either come via this or direct to the department. Once requests are checked for coverage under the licence and extent limits, an additional permission request will go to the acquisitions team, who consider if the publication might be purchased as an e-book. If not, then consideration is given as to whether the additional amount can be purchased using the Second Extract Service, which is mainly down to Scarles.

He will weigh up factors such as cost, the outcome of previous requests, and the nature of the course. For instance, distance learners are more likely to need access to a second extract as they are unable to access the print copy in the library.

This decision may also rest on discussions with the academic; is it really an essential reading?  Is the cost worth it for one-year permissions? Once a purchase is made, the copy can be made as per standard procedure.

On pricing, Scarles notes that class size is a determining factor so that a distance-learning course of 10 students is more likely to offer a manageable fee than an undergraduate honours course of 60 students.

However, as a purchaser of copyright clearance from way back, Stuart has found that the prices offered via the Second Extract Permissions Service are pretty much in line with prices quoted by publishers under direct permissions. He says: ‘It seems as though users of the service will not be paying any special premium for it, so the instant clearance it offers really is a genuine benefit.’

At present, the service is likely to continue to sit with Scarles and his team. Each of Edinburgh’s academic schools has differing procedures and personnel, so keeping this service centrally administered ensures a degree of uniformity. 

Looking at the service as whole, Stuart concludes: ‘The Second Extract Permissions Service has speeded up the process of seeking additional permissions from start to finish. It has certainly improved the team’s efficiency.’

Second Extract Permissions Service:

Alexandra Reed is a communications executive at Copyright Licensing Agency