Melissa Ocepek’s Insights into Copyright Instruction

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Learn more about our guest Melissa Ocepek on her iSchool webpage.

Here is the link to our syllabus for the Copyright for Information Professionals.

Sara:  Hello, welcome to another episode of copyright chat with your host Sara Benson. Today I’m recording live in studio. Well, maybe not live since this is recorded, but we are in the studio at the undergraduate library of university of Illinois because today I have with me Melissa Ocepek an Assistant Professor from the School of Information sciences at the University of Illinois. Welcome to the show. Melissa.

Melissa:  Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to talk about copyright today.

Sara:  Well, that is what we’re going to talk about. So Melissa and I, if some of you don’t know for you listeners at home, we co-teach a class called copyright for information professionals at the school of information sciences and we are teaching it right now.  In fact, we taught today.

Melissa:  We did. We did. It was very fun. We had a fair use game show.

Sara:   So Melissa, my first question for you is you are not a librarian, you are not a copyright person necessarily by training. How did you get into copyright?

Melissa:  Well, I want to note in addition to teaching the class, we also designed it ourselves and put it together and that’s sort of I would say is how I got into copyright, which is that I’ve always had an appreciation for the law. I’ve always been a bit of a law nerd, a bit of a Supreme court nerd. And so when I started teaching here at the high school at the University of Illinois I was teaching a unit on intellectual property within one of the required courses called libraries, information and society. And through that and through talking to the students, a lot of them got really excited about the content, but there wasn’t another space that could tell them to learn more.

A lot of other topics I say, Oh, take this other class where you’ll get a deep education in this particular topic. And since it did not exist for copyright, I talked to the administration about why that was and if there was an opportunity to create a course and it seemed that there was, and so it sort of started just as an idea. I then met luckily met Sara and together we sort of figured out what would be the best approach and making, not a law course, not a law school course, but a course about copyright, about making copyright accessible for a librarian information science student audience.

Sara:  Right. So we, we designed that course a few years ago we’ve taught, this is our fifth iteration is that right?

Melissa:  I think this is the fourth.

Sara:  Fourth, okay. Our fourth iteration, and this is the first time that we’ve taught a full semester length course.  It’s been eight weeks up until now. Give me some perspective on, you know, your thoughts of the course as it has developed over time.

Melissa:  Well, what I think is great about the course is that we started out just with sort of some very basic ideas of what is copyright, what is section 108, how can we think about library librarians, education, fair use, sort of the, the real basic, what you’d want. Someone in an educational context understands copyright. And from there we’ve really expanded it and I think that’s been driven not only from our interest in copyright but also a lot from the student’s interest. So for example, for this semester I knew going in that one of our students, at least one of our students wanted to go into music librarian ship was really interested in music and copyright and I, we hadn’t taught that previously.

And so by talking to my students in different classes and getting to know a lot of them through the required courses, I’ve really been able to with you work to expand the course in ways that are really useful. I think that’s really one of the best parts about the course. I mean it’s called copyright for information professionals and we really try to make it as applicable as possible for our students. Yeah.

Sara:  So I think one of the things that I hear back from students is that, you know, this is one of the things that I can actually go out and apply cause we have them doing, you know, this week they’re working on a fair use assessment project where they are asked whether a particular, you know, hypothetical facts situation is a fair use and to kind of justify their analysis. And that is really a useful thing to do because they might actually be in a situation as librarian where they need to make a fair use assessment.

So we try to make it applicable to them and give them skills they can use. We also engaged over the course of this class in a research endeavor where we were kind of looking at the students’ emotional response to copyright. Can you talk a little bit about that? And how that got developed?

Melissa:  Sure. I actually think you sort of initiated the idea and then together we, we worked on it. So one of the things that research has told us is that copyright is something that a lot of librarians, a lot of information professionals have a lot of anxiety about. And you see this in all sorts of different studies. And honestly, if you just talk to people, I’ve spoken with copyright librarians, I’ve spoken with academic librarians. I’ve spoken with students and before the unit in my class on copyright or before they take the class, they go, Oh, that’s the law.

And I’m not a lawyer and I don’t understand that. And it’s really complicated and it’s really scary. And so for the study, what we really wanted to look at was, okay, so if we ask students before a copyright class, what are your feelings about copyright? Does it, is it scary? Does it make you anxious? And also what are the places you’d even go if someone asks you a question about copyright? Because even if you’re not the copyright librarian, right? If you’re working an information desk at an academic library, there’s a good chance someone at some point will ask you a copyright question. So we really tried to make a study in which we’d ask students before the, this was the eight week, eight week version of the course before the course and after the course to really see how a detailed sort of deep dive into copyright can help people not only understand the topic, but feel better about working with the topic. Because I think what’s, what’s really notable other than in it in comparison to other topics that we talk about in library information science education, copyright has a lot of fear because people are afraid of being sued, not necessarily personally, but they’re afraid of their institution getting sued. They’re afraid of getting in trouble. And so I’m thinking about their anxiety, I think is a really important aspect of thinking about understanding corporate education.

Sara:  Yeah. And so some of our findings over the course of, I think it was three semesters, we took data where that yes, students at the beginning of the course seem to self-identify as having quite a bit of anxiety about copyright. But after the course they feel much better about it. They feel much more confident in their skills, which obviously that makes a lot of sense, but it, it kind of goes to show that we can, as copyright educators make copyright more accessible to our students. And then the other thing is that one of the other notable results was that at the beginning of the course, one of the number one sources of information that they look to when trying to find copyright information was Google. I’ll do a Google search. And as we know as information professionals, Google can turn up really great results and it can turn up really bad results and results that are not accurate.

And so after having taken the course, some of the results were much more specific and much more helpful, such as I would look at copyright law. I would look at the us copyright office website, I would do a fair use analysis under the fair use checklist. I would look at some lib guides that I know about. So, so they had a lot more tools available to them. And I guess I think going the, the results just make me feel more and more adamant I would say and militant that we should be teaching more copyright at ice schools. And I don’t think to date that we have enough copyright instruction at high schools. What do, what do you think about that, Melissa?

Melissa:  I think that is dead on. I know within the iSchool that I teach at the University of Illinois, we talk a lot about curriculum. We talk about what skills employers are looking for, our students having. We talk about what skills our students tell us that they want to have before they come in, when they’re in the program and after they’ve left the program. And copyright comes up all the time. And it’s historically been a week in a course that’s required for the students. But I really think that for a large percentage of the students and in high schools, a large percentage of future librarians, future archivists, future museum curators, future information professionals, that having the option of taking a detailed course in copyright can be incredibly useful. Because I mean, you know, you talk to people that are working as archivists, people working as librarians and it’s not just fair use.

It’s not just section 108 even if you get to section 108, which is typically I would say maybe a second or third or fourth day and a copyright course or a copy or a topic that understanding that nuance is really important. And I’m going back to what you said about the anxiety. I think the more people learn about it, the more time they spend with it, the more comfortable they feel, the more that anxiety goes away. Because, you know we talk about all the, all the exceptions we talk about that they are protected as librarians and that they’re probably not going to get sued if they understand the law and if they are making reasonable assessments in their, in their work.

Sara:  And last week we had a panel of experts joining us practitioners and one of them was Greg Cram from the New York public library. And I thought he said something really relevant and kind of illuminating about the subject of fear and engaging with the law and just like shutting down because a lot of students would say, you know, I hear a copyright question are I need to make some sort of copper assessment? And I just shy away from it. I just say, no, I’m not going to do that. I’ll just, I just won’t use that item or I just won’t do that thing. And one thing Greg said was, you know, every time it rains, we don’t shut the doors to the library. And that’s, that carries a legal risk. People could slip and fall and they could Sue the library. But we don’t shut our doors.

And it’s the same thing. It’s just that with copyright, I think that there’s some added confusion because people just don’t understand it, right? With rain on the floor, we understand what the risk is. It’s a very clear thing and we know how to handle it and we know how to mitigate risk, right? We can go and we can mop the floor and we can put up a sign that says wet floor and we could do things. But the interesting thing is with copyright you can do those things as well. And so you know, you can mitigate risk, you can understand the risk, you can accept understandable risk that is, is acceptable risk, a level of risk that is a reasonable, and it’s just a matter of understanding the thing. And I think that’s the difference, right between the rain on the floor, which people understand and the risk and copyright, which they just feel like it’s too difficult to understand.

And what we try to do in our courses to make it accessible, make it understandable and make it fun. You know, I, I think that learning can always be fun no matter what the topic is. And so we try to keep our course lively and interesting and hands on and engaging and all the things that keep the students excited about copyright and we’ve had some success with, with students kind of following up. I mean I guess one of the questions I have, and I’ve asked this to other folks, but I’ll ask you Melissa, is what’s your perspective on like, do you need to be a lawyer to, you know, understand copyright? Cause I think that’s one of the common misconceptions. Like, Oh well I need a JD if I’m going to understand this.

Melissa:   This is something we, we teach, we talk to our students about that they can be information professionals, right? They can have master’s degrees in library information science or information management or whatever your degree is called and understand copyright and understand how it affects their particular job, their particular law, their particular role. What I liked so much about what Greg said that you just mentioned is that the New York public library’s goal is to have their doors open, to have their collections be accessible. My goal as an educator of future librarians, future archivists is to make sure that they know how to make their material accessible, whether that’s through digitization or that sort of displays and copyright effects, all of that. And so I’d feel much better knowing that I’m empowering students to put up that display and understand the limited risk, but the, but the, the small amount of risk associated with that, if the copyright ownership of a particular item is not clear to them. And so that’s what we try to do. I mean, we talked about this I think just last or two weeks ago in our class why displays are a fair use and what courts have said about displays and fair use. And so I think that’s so important is that we can give students real world examples that yes, we talk about the law. Yes, we read, we read cases, but we really allow them to see how it’s applicable in their specific information space.

Sara:  One of the things that I really want my students to take away in terms of resources is the code of best practices for fair use in academic and research libraries. A lot of them are going to be working in libraries and, and some of the principles are our work in public spaces, public library spaces as well. And yeah, one of the principles says, you know, we can’t say everything, like every exhibit is a fair use. We can’t say every this, every that. But, but with the best practices you can understand what the general consensus is among your peers. And I think that really helps you to go a long way to say, okay, you know, this risk has been accepted widely from my peers and therefore I feel comfortable doing this thing. And to kind of be able to say and site an actual document for your understanding.

 

Melissa:  And can I just say that I think one of the innovations of our course is that we have Sara Benson, copyright librarian, JD, other letters as well. But one of the notable ones, JD and Melissa was about PhD in information science to sort of give two different sides of the same coin, right? That we have our different expertise and we bring them to the classroom. But the idea being that a wide variety of people care about copyright, understand copyright, think about copyright deeply and that it’s about the topic. It’s not about the background as much. Yeah. And I, I have close friends who are copyright librarians who are not lawyers. And I, I think that I try to encourage the students, you know, one of the students just asked me after class, you know, do you think I could be a copyright librarian?

You know, I don’t have a JD. And my response is anyone can be a copyright laborer. And what you need to have is a real passion for learning about copyright caring about the subject that goes a long way and not being afraid to put in the time to really deeply analyze these issues. Because one of the biggest issues I think for copyright folks is it’s really easy to gloss over issues. Like if you start saying, Oh, every exhibit is a fair use or every, every educational use is fair use or whatever, you start saying every, if you started every year, you’re going to be wrong. Right? It’s just, that’s not how copyright law works. But I think that if you’re willing to dig into the details and to also understand where your limitations are, where you need to do some further research because you are going to have quite a few issues where it’s something you can’t answer off the top of your head.

But if you’re comfortable with that and you’re comfortable with ambiguity and like, you know, it’s going to be different for each scenario and you’re willing to put in the time and effort anybody can really do this job. It’s just a matter of not everybody likes the topic. Not everybody wants to focus on it. And I also think that the beauty of the court, another beauty of our course is that it’s for those folks who want to be copyright librarians. But I expect that most of our students do not want to be copyright librarians, but they want to be really great archivists or they want to be really great music librarians or they want to be really great reference service librarians or data management professionals, right? Whatever their ultimate career goal is this course can help them because they’re going to encounter some copyright issues.

And whether they’re the primary person dealing with the issues or they just have that baseline of understanding that’s still gonna be very useful to them. And I think that’s the beauty of the course, cause I don’t want, I don’t want everyone in the course to be a copyright professional because you know, that’s not the goal. The goal is for us to get to bring everyone to a level of copyright knowledge where they’re ready to tackle an issue or to work with someone else. And also to, to just identify copyright issues, right? To know, Oh this is a copyright issue. Cause that’s another thing. It’s like some people don’t even know they have a copyright issue, right? They, they’ve glossed over it to a level that they don’t even know it’s an issue. And so I don’t think our students will ever have that problem. They may not have all the answers, but they know when an issue arises.

Sara:  And that’s one of the main things we teach in law school is like issue analysis. Like is this a copyright thing? Oh it is. Okay, well now I know where to start. And I also just think it’s so, it aligns so much with other things that we teach in the high school. Other things that we teach information professionals like how to do research, how to think deeply and critically about a particular topic, how to analyze a situation. And so that’s something that I think is somewhat appealing to students once they get past their anxiety about copyright, that it is such a dynamic issue that it’s, it’s changing and that they can do the research, they can learn, the material is accessible to them in part because of our class, but also that we sort of show them, like you said, I’m in the study that we did at Google, went from the first search to one of the later searches in the pre and post interview because one of the things we do in the classes, we say, look at all these resources that are available to you as a librarian and you can understand them with this class.

And without any sort of legal or law background. Although some of our students do have law backgrounds, a few of them do. But even the ones with the law backgrounds don’t necessarily want to pursue copyright. They might want to be a law librarian and it’s also really great to have some copyright understanding for the law library. Just one final note. I would say that we’re going to share our syllabus with this podcast. So if you’re just listening and you want to see the syllabus, it will be attached on the website from the scholarly communication and publishing link and it has a creative commons license on it, creative co creative comments, attribution license. So we encourage you if you work at an ice school to build upon our, our work and to use it to create your own courses and build upon the reading lists we have. And of course you attribute us, but then after that, you know, make derivatives at will, you know, change it up. And, and let us know if you’re using it. We would love to hear about your experiences with teaching copyright and we hope that we start the impetus for more and more copyright classes at, at library schools because it’s very, it’s very important that we spread this, this message that copyright is not inaccessible. It’s not scary. It’s something that we can all engage with.

Melissa:  Yeah, and just adding on to that, because I completely agree. I would love to hear people’s experiences. I think it’s been so fruitful for me.  I’m an Assistant Professor. I’m still pretty new in my career, but developing this course, teaching copyright is so so worthwhile because I get to see that engagement with the students. I get to see how applicable it is, not all the things that I teach have that level of applicability and I can see how excited they get and I think that more students and more places would benefit from this type of education.

Also, I’m very excited about sharing our syllabus. I also hope that soon Sara and I will take our messages to maybe some library and information science conferences we’re working on that, that there’s, there’s just a time element there, but we really want to continue this conversation and really encourage others to find a way, even if they don’t, even if they aren’t a corporate librarian necessarily or if they’re not a copyright experts, to find ways to bring experts in to make sure their students have access to this material and understand how approachable it truly can be.

Sara:  So thanks for joining me today, Melissa. This was a fun conversation and hopefully our listeners got something out of it as well. And, please listeners, please do take a look at the syllabus.

Melissa:  Yes, please do. And a thank you, Sara, for asking me.

Music credit: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music

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