Copyright law is at the heart of the creative industries. Artists, performers and businesses who get it wrong can find themselves in serious legal trouble. If the likes of Robin Thicke can end up paying Marvin Gaye’s estate millions of dollars to settle a copyright claim, it’s not hard to see how those without vast resources to spend on legal advice can end up in difficulty.
However, it’s about more than simply staying out of trouble – understanding the thin line between copying and inspiration can actually open the doors to artistic opportunities that use copyrighted works in a way that does not break the law.
That’s why BU academics have helped to create CopyrightUser.org, a project that brings together leading copyright academics and research centres from a number of UK universities. The website aims to simplify the complex world of copyright so that it can be understood easily by artists and small businesses who don’t have easy, affordable access to legal advice.
“We live in a world surrounded by information and creative works,” explains BU’s Professor Dinusha Mendis, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management (CIPPM). “Through smartphones, tablets and laptops, we have the tools to become creators, whether that is through blogging and vlogging, podcasts, social media accounts or acting as citizen journalists.”
Discover more about the Copyright User website
In all the scenarios outlined by Professor Mendis, people are creating and consuming information – but there are risks involved in doing so.
“For example,” Professor Mendis says, “if you are using a photograph taken by someone else, you may do so if it is for criticism, review or quotation. But simply using someone else’s photograph and using it on your own account or in your own article is not allowed. It may seem very basic, but an understanding of such nuances can save a lot of time and hassle for everyone living in the digital age.”
That’s exactly what the website aims to achieve. It’s free from legal jargon and can be accessed by anyone looking to use copyrighted material in their own work, or seeking to understand how to defend or exploit their own works of copyright.
Successfully writing legal commentaries in a non-academic way was one of many challenges faced when putting the site together, but one that was accomplished thanks to a team effort and a robust editing and peer-review process.
Co-creating with students
Alongside the lawyers who were producing the written content, students from the Faculty of Media & Communication at BU were also able to get involved in the project. Students helped with the research for some of the legal commentaries, as well as filming and editing the videos that were used on the site. In Professor Mendis’ own words, the final site “is very much a co-created project between students and staff”.
Professor Mendis finds that the site (and the experience of creating it) is a useful teaching tool. She regularly uses it to inform her teaching at postgraduate and undergraduate level, and finds that the use of practical examples helps her students to understand the challenges that content creators face, and how those challenges can be overcome.
As well as providing learning opportunities for her students, Professor Mendis found that the experience taught her a lot too.
“If you’re not working in the field of copyright, it’s hard to know what you can do, can’t do and in what ways you can do things but still keep within the boundaries of the law,” she says. “That was really illuminating about this project. In turn, the ability to get such information across in a way that helps the creative industries was rewarding.”
The project has met with considerable success. CopyrightUser.org won an AHRC Research in Film Award in 2015 for ‘The Adventure of the Girl with the Light Blue Hair’, the first episode of the web series ‘The Game is On!’, directed by the project’s Creative Director Bartolomeo Meletti and Professor Ronan Deazley of Queen’s University Belfast. The film was complemented by 12 case files, co-authored by Professor Mendis, that explained the various copyright concepts it raised.
Learn more about copyright from the award-winning web series produced by Copyright User
However, the law never stands still – and neither does CopyrightUser.org. As the law evolves, so will the site – making it an essential tool for anyone who finds themselves needing free and accessible copyright advice.