|(U-WIRE) COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Faculty members need to
be wary of copyright laws when trying to use Internet-based distance education, according
to an Ohio State associate legal counsel.
Internet is really one big photocopier," said Steven McDonald, associate legal
counsel for O. State's Office of Legal Affairs. Each time a user views a Web page, a copy
is created on the hard drive of the user's computer.
McDonald and Trisha L. Davis, an assistant
professor with University Libraries, spoke to faculty members on Tuesday about copyright
and licensing laws as they apply to the Internet and distance education. The government
has not yet established firm guidelines to deal with the conflicting interests of
educational institutes and publishers, McDonald and Davis said.
Their speeches were part of the Conference on
Intellectual Properties, which was sponsored by Technology Enhanced Learning and Research.
Current provisions allow limited use of copyrighted
work by nonprofit organizations for educational uses in classrooms or similar places,
McDonald said. A distance education provision allows for sending course material through
satellites, but the law does not address Internet transmission.
"This is a huge political fight right
now," McDonald said. "The Motion Pictures Association of America, the Recording
Association of America, the American Publishing Association all have lots of big lobbyists
fighting to make sure distance education does not extend to the Internet."
Davis testified before a U.S. copyright office
public hearing on Feb. 12. Congress ordered the office to hold three hearings and then
provide a report on distance education by April 28.
"From the publisher's perspective, we are a
true threat to them commercially," Davis said. "They talked about significant
loss of income from our preparing our own courses and distributing them through the
Some publishers are even questioning the status of
universities as nonprofit organizations, she said.
"The publishers felt that there is an
important need to protect their right in the digital environment," Davis said.
"And most of us have no problem with their wanting to protect their right if we can
continue to have fair use rights and some kind of exemption for basic educational
In the meantime, McDonald and Davis offered their
advice to faculty members who wish to display copyrighted work on course Web sites.
Using passwords to limit Web site access to only
authorized students or faculty members can protect faculty members from infringement laws,
Faculty members should always include copyright
notices when distributing copies to students, McDonald said.
Both Davis and McDonald urged extreme caution when
considering licensing agreements with publishers.
"If you're signing a license, make sure you
know what you're committing to," Davis said. "If it has to be signed, you should
be working with the Office of Legal Affairs anyways."
Faculty members should beware of requests for
confidential information, and should also be careful who the "users" are as
referred to in a contract.
"Never take responsibility for what your
students may or may not do," Davis said. Faculty have no way of knowing or
controlling what their students are doing, she said.
In one case, the library was given access to a
database, Davis said. One student took an article out of the database and included it as
part of a newsletter that was then circulated about the world.
OSU's Office of Legal Affairs later received a
complaint draft from the article's original publisher requesting $25 million in damages,
Overall, faculty members should not even be seeking
individual written agreements.
"If you have ever signed a license agreement
as your job with the university, don't ever admit to it, because you're not allowed
to," Davis said. Janet Ashe, the vice president for the Office of Business and
Administration, is the only one who can officially make legal agreements.