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Making Copyright Law Accessible – Learning on Screen

How can broadcast archives promote their content and make it accessible for reuse without violating copyright regulations? We invited Bartolomeo Meletti, copyright service delivery manager at Learning On Screen and an active member in the EUscreen network, to guide us through the complex field of copyright laws and tell us about how Learning on Screen can help audiovisual archives in Europe to open their collections for reuse.

Learning on Screen is a UK charity and membership organisation working with over 200 Higher, Further and School education member institutions. We are specialists in the use of moving image and sound, leading the discovery, citation and responsible use of audiovisual material in education and research since 1948.

From a legal perspective, the reuse of audiovisual material – whether to illustrate a point in the classroom or to create a research-based documentary film – is regulated mainly by copyright law. While it is important for anyone engaging with audiovisual heritage to have a good understanding of the basic principles of copyright, the complexity of the legislation presents a number of challenges to the education sector and can be seen as a barrier to using audiovisual materials in teaching and learning.

For these reasons, in 2018 we set up our Copyright Advisory Service – in order to help the UK education sector make informed decisions on copyright issues related to accessing and using audiovisual material. Our goal is to facilitate and encourage the lawful use of moving image and sound in education and research. 

Making copyright accessible to researchers, educators and creators presents a number of challenges. The main one is the complexity of the subject itself: copyright is a complex and evolving subject, so it is difficult to explain it in a way that is both accurate and accessible. It’s important to try to make things ‘as simple as possible, but not simpler’ (allegedly a quote from Albert Einstein). Second, copyright in education is surrounded by a rather negative perception: teachers, students and researchers often see copyright as an obstacle to their everyday practice and what they consider acceptable behaviour. Ambiguity is another challenge: while teachers dealing copyright issues always look for black or white answers, the practical implementation of copyright law often turns on interpreting concepts that are inherently ambiguous and situational, such as ‘fairness’ or ‘substantiality’.

Our Copyright Advisory Service adopts a number of guiding principles to address these challenges. First of all, our courses and training focus on positive messaging: we highlight what copyright enables and allows, rather than what it prohibits or prevents. Also, we adopt a bottom-up approach aimed at identifying the most common knowledge needs of our audience, with a view to offering responsive guidance. In other words, instead of telling people what we think they should know about copyright, first we try to understand what they don’t but want to know. Importantly, our copyright guidance is balanced. We address copyright topics comprehensively, explaining licensing and enforcement as well as the public domain and copyright exceptions.

Copyright exceptions play an increasingly crucial role in enabling the reuse of audiovisual materials. A recent example is from the Tate Modern in London. From 14 September 2018 to 20 January 2019, the Tate Modern screened Christian Marclay’s The Clock. Marclay’s 24-hour long film includes thousands of clips that have not been ‘cleared’, meaning that they have been used without the copyright owners’ permission. However, Tate was able to screen the film by relying on the copyright exception for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche, introduced in UK copyright law in 2014. This exception is included in most EU members states’ copyright laws and can potentially enable a huge body of creative practices such as found footage filmmaking and appropriation art.

Copyright exceptions present both challenges and opportunities for audiovisual archives. Broadcast archives find it particularly difficult to make their content available in a way that allows use under copyright exceptions without undermining its commercial exploitation. At the same time, archives themselves often rely on exceptions, for example for preservation purposes or to make ‘orphan works’ in their collections available.

The ambiguity of the legal concepts embedded in copyright exceptions – e.g. the ‘diligent search’ required to make orphan works available – can be off-putting. However, exceptions are a fundamental part of the copyright system, especially for the education and cultural heritage sectors, so it is important to understand and use them. At Learning on Screen, we are planning to facilitate the bottom-up definition of these ambiguous concepts and the establishment of best practices within creative, cultural and education sectors through copyright education activities combined with deliberation exercises. These community-based exercises will focus on how innovative licensing solutions and copyright exceptions can co-exist to promote the widest use of audiovisual material.

Our work will start in the UK, but we are eager to collaborate with European audiovisual archives to conduct similar activities on a EU level. This is particularly important in light of the recently adopted Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. While the Directive has drawn significant controversy in relation to the additional right for press publishers and the new obligations for online platforms, the new legislation also contains provisions that are likely to be beneficial for educational and cultural heritage institutions. These include new exceptions for text and data mining, teaching activities and preservation purposes (for a summary of the most relevant aspects of the new Directive, see here). 

If you are interested to know more about our Copyright Advisory Service or to collaborate on related projects and activities, please get in touch with me at!

Bartolomeo Meletti is the Copyright Services Delivery Manager at Learning on Screen. He also works as Creative Director of for CREATe, the UK Copyright and Creative Economy Centre (University of Glasgow). He is also the Director of Worth Knowing Productions, a digital creative team specialised in making complex knowledge accessible through research-based visual tools.