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9.2 Copyright and IPR 

HEIs are generally very well aware of their responsibilities relating to copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR) and the acceptable use policy from Jisc Technologies (formerly Janet) has always required connected organisations to deal effectively with reports of copyright breach by their users. This section therefore merely serves to highlight a few tips to avoid issues that can arise due to the ease of capturing and sharing information on social media. The main point is to reiterate that copyright and IPR do exist in the virtual world: the laws are basically the same just easier to infringe and to detect! In some cases, the issues can be quite complex e.g. a single piece of multimedia content may actually consist of a number of different layers with different ownership and there may be multiple contributors to content on blogs and wikis. It can often be quite difficult to determine who owns content and in which country's jurisdiction the content was generated. There is also a lack of clarity of what may be permitted under exceptions to copyright e.g. in the field of data and text mining because of a lack of suitable case law.

Our advice is simply to apply common sense and existing good practice. When using content produced by staff you need to think about whether or not the content was produced as part of the duties of employment, and when using content produced as part of an inter-institutional project you need to think about having a consortium agreement that defines how that content can be used. You may also wish to use the student-generated content on social media, either as learning resources or to showcase other aspects of the student experience, and you should ensure that you have the appropriate consent to do so. Note also that whilst reproduction by a student as part of their learning may fall within a copyright exemption, reproduction of the same material by the institution as part of their marketing may not.

An important legal concept to consider in reusing third party material in social media is that of implied licence. An implied licence arises when the actions of the author would reasonably lead to the belief that a licence is being offered e.g. in writing a letter to a newspaper there is an implied license to publish this in the letters page. Similarly, contributing to a blog or wiki can create an implied licence for the material to be further disseminated although it does not necessarily mean that the material could be reproduced under any circumstances. The key question to ask is “If I were the rights owner, would I be likely to object if my materials were being reproduced in this way?” Situations are not always clear cut as problems can arise when material is incorporated into social media by a third party rather than added voluntarily by the rights owner, or where there are multiple contributions by international contributors subject to different copyright laws (see Section 9, Legal issues).

There appears to be an increasing tendency in the internet age to ignore copyright and therefore it is important that your institution's approach to promoting academic integrity makes it clear to students that similar rules apply when using other people's stuff for whatever purpose on social media. We discuss this further in Section 9, Legal issues. Conversely, where you are happy to make your materials available on a Creative Commons basis you should state this clearly.

Finally, when using externally hosted social media sites you should be aware that the terms of service may give the hosts substantial rights to use your intellectual property. See the examples below.


    “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”


    “…you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide licence to use the Content that you post on or through the service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy…”

The similarities in the above examples are interesting not least because Instagram was taken over by Facebook in 2012 and proposed changes to its terms caused an outcry when it appeared that Instagram was reserving the right to sell users' photographs. It appears that this was a misconception, nevertheless Instagram was obliged to amend the proposed changes although some analysts maintain that the new tighter wording is actually more detrimental to users than the maligned changes.

Good practice tips:

  • Keep guidance up to date – ensure that copyright guidance and acceptable use policies for staff cover use of social media. 

  • Keep contracts up to date – ensure that you have clear agreements in contracts with staff and partners about reuse of social media generated content. 

  • Treat student outputs with respect – ensure that you obtain consent to reuse student-generated content. 

  • Act with integrity – take a risk-based approach to the use of implied licences ensuring that you act in good faith. 

  • Maintain academic integrity standards – include examples from social media in your academic integrity guidance and acceptable use policies for students. 

  • Understand your own IPR position – be aware of the rights that external social media hosts may have in relation to your intellectual property.

  • Do not reinvent the wheel – use the UCISA (2014b) templates to respond to reports of copyright infringement.




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