Teaching & Learning


Embedding copyright literacy into your teaching

Christine Daouti and Chris Holland from Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science (LCCOS), share ways to help students to understand copyright in a context of openness.

20 June 2023

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Awareness of copyright is essential

The sudden appearance of AI has made everyone think about how to use and reference sources but it’s not a new issue, and there are many aspects to appropriate use of sources. 

An understanding of copyright, as it applies both to others’ creative works (‘third-party materials’) and to one’s own works, is essential in higher education and beyond.  

Copyright is certainly a compliance issue, framed by legislation, licence schemes and contracts. As a minimum, students should be made aware of the implications of breaching copyright and adopt good practices to avoid infringement. Awareness of others’ economic and moral rights is also part of research integrity. However, in a world where the very nature of ‘creative work’ is rapidly changing – for example through generative AI and new digital technologies – decisions around copyright call for a more critical, imaginative and creative approach. 

Establish a context of transparency

Within scholarly communication, we are witnessing a shift towards more openness and transparency in the way research is conducted and disseminated. As a result, there is greater focus on authors’ rights and the importance of retaining and exercising them. Understanding how rights and open licences work in this environment, and how they can support collaboration and creativity, can become a core part of students’ education. In short, understanding copyright in a context of openness is an essential skill for students, whether their future lies in academic research or in any industry outside academia. 

Promote critical copyright literacy

The term ‘critical copyright literacy’ has been adopted to describe an approach that seeks to encourage learners to ‘get comfortable with uncertainty’ when thinking about copyright. In the UCL’s copyright support team, we strive to adopt this approach. A first step towards this is our new Copyright Essentials online module, which introduces basic concepts through opportunities for reflection and relevant scenarios.  

From your teaching roles, you can also support this approach. We highlight three simple actions in the video to take as a first step:

  • showcasing best practice through acknowledgement of sources
  • encouraging the use of open materials
  • signposting copyright training

We would be happy to work with you further, for example through a bespoke session to your students or (co-) creating a resource for you to embed in your module. If you have an idea or any questions on copyright education, you can contact us at copyright@ucl.ac.uk.  

Top tip: Start by marking your own teaching materials as copyright, and consider applying an open licence if appropriate. 

Further resources

The UCL Copyright Essentials module 

Information on critical copyright literacy: Secker, 2017; Morrison, 2018; Morrison and Secker, 2017

Download the video transcript (Word)

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