Seminar on copyright in education reveals complex ownership system

published 28 July 2017 updated 2 August 2017

“Who owns knowledge?” was the question at the core of a seminar on copyright in education, the first of its kind to bring education unions and copyright experts together at EI’s headquarters in Brussels.

Education can be open or closed – depending on a variety of factors, including the tools and resources available in the classroom, which are often subject to complex and opaque copyright rules. The access, or lack of it, use and dissemination of knowledge, in whatever form, can constitute one of the main barriers to quality education for many education institutions.  This impacts directly on students who cannot afford to pay for copyrighted material. A seminar on ‘Open Education’, organised by the research unit of Education International (EI) at its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, shed light on this issue and explored ways of addressing it.

Staff from EI’s headquarters and research unit, affiliates from north and south America and experts in the domain of open access and copyright in education learnt, over two days, how to navigate the maze of regulations and exceptions around materials ranging from audiovisual to text, what role libraries play in the dissemination of knowledge, and what the current political trends for more or less restrictive copyright policies are.

Many of the participants acknowledged the growing presence of private actors in education, who are accessing the education system through the gateway of the production and distribution of copyrighted material. Special mention was made to the publishing giant Elsevier, whose operations and for-profit handling of academic papers have “disastrous effects”, according to Jon Tennant, one of the participating experts. He described how many higher education institutions in several countries had embarked on a boycott of Elsevier, with little consequences as regards the company’s operations or profit growth (which is proportionally much higher than that of business giants such as Google or Apple).

The seminar was an important first stepping stone in the creation of synergies between different actors working in the field of education, access and copyright, said David Edwards, deputy General Secretary of EI. He emphasised the importance of knowledge sharing “in an era of post truth and a world of alternative facts”, and stressed the intention of his organisation to continue to research and devlop advocacy in the field of open education.