New research informs union work to overcome copyright obstacles for teachers and teaching

published 30 October 2023 updated 20 March 2024

On September 28, the International Day for Universal Access to Information, Education International hosted an online event entitled Pathways to pedagogy: Overcoming copyright obstacles for teacher resource access. The event launched three new pieces of research commissioned by Education International on copyright regimes and their impact on education and educators in Kenya, Fiji and the Philippines, and in contexts of cross-border teaching.

Researching the impact of copyright restrictions on education

The event featured presentations of recent research findings from across the globe on access to and use of teaching and learning materials from a copyright perspective.

Dara Dimitrov and Rogena Sterling from the University of Waikato, New Zealand presented their findings on Access and Use of Teaching and Research Materials from A Copyright Perspective in Fiji and the Philippines. Having surveyed educators in both Fiji and the Philippines, the researchers noted that while all teachers wanted to provide the best learning experience for their students, they were faced with outdated material that affected their ability to prepare for classes. Educators in both countries reported that it was impossible to teach without infringing copyright in some way and that the cost and access to materials were a constant challenge. The researchers recommended that international copyright laws be revised for educational purposes, in order to provide greater concessions for accessibility and to eliminate cost barriers for developing countries.

Catherine and Charles Nandain from the Technical University, Kenya gave event participants an overview of their research on Access and Use of Teaching and Learning Materials from a Copyright Perspective in Kenya and further research undertaken in Senegal. The studies revealed that teachers in both Kenya and Senegal face challenges related to the cost and accessibility of educational materials which impact the quality of education. In addition, teachers often struggle to understand copyright laws or lack awareness of the legislation, which can lead to legal risks. The researchers recommend that copyright laws are regularly updated to account for technological advancements. Efforts must also be made to simplify the language of the legislation, provide clear guidance, and raise awareness among educators and other stakeholders of the provisions related to copyright exceptions for education.

Aurora Escudero from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Glasgow presented the results of a brief review of copyright legislation and its impact on education in Latin America. Experts interviewed for the study stressed that copyright legislation in the region is outdated and exceptions are very rigid. While high-income countries are moving towards a more flexible system of exceptions for educational purposes, medium-income countries are lagging behind. Experts highlighted that exceptions for education are essential in order to ensure equity in education, eliminate the risk of legal penalties for educators, remove current limitations on pedagogy, and clarify uncertainty around the intellectual property of educational resources created by educators.

Kimberly Anastacio from the American University in the United States presented Higher Education in the International Digital Economy: Effects of Conflicting Copyright Regimes on Cross-Border Teaching, a new study commissioned by Education International. The study features a survey of 214 teachers from across five regions, adding the voice of teachers themselves to existing research. Over 50% of teachers reported either having encountered copyright problems or being unsure that was the case. Confusion about applicable legislation was widespread. Teachers were shown to prioritise the education of their students but were resentful about being forced to find workarounds, to make second-best choices, and to forgo rewarding pedagogical experiences. Changes to copyright legislation that expand exceptions and limitations for educational use across jurisdictions were recommended, along with other measures to address the issues teachers face.

Unions taking the lead

Elizabeth Fong (AUSPS, Fiji), Grace Nyongesa (UASU, Kenya), David Robinson (CAUT, Canada), and Miriam Socolovsky (CONADU, Argentina) discussed the implications of the new research on the work of education unions going forward.

Welcoming the new research on the impact of copyright legislation on education in Fiji, Elizabeth Fong stated that unions must now use this evidence to inform their work, stressing that “our children and young people are being deprived of access to the best information due to copyright restrictions and legislation that has failed to take into account small and developing economies. Unions have much to do in the area of copyright.”

Addressing the situation in Kenya, Grace Nyongesa highlighted the role of unions in both raising awareness of copyright laws among educators, and actively participating in the revision of these laws to ensure they meet the needs of students and teachers.

Miriam Socolovsky reflected on the importance of ensuring universal access to knowledge and professional autonomy for education workers.

David Robinson shared his union’s experience in advocating for better copyright legislation. Working alongside teachers and students, the union succeeded in bringing significant amendments to Canada’s copyright legislation that now explicitly recognises education as a purpose for fair use. CAUT has also intervened in several legal disputes recently, making the case that copyright legislation needs to balance the rights of the creators and the rights of users. The union has also used collective bargaining to ensure academics retain the copyright of the work they produce.

Education unions attending the Education International event committed to continue their work at the national and international levels to ensure copyright exceptions for education.

International advocacy

Education International is a member of the Access to Knowledge (A2K) Coalition, a group that represents educators, researchers, libraries, and other knowledge users around the globe. The Coalition has recently published an analysis of key issues on the agenda at the upcoming meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. The analysis opposes the proposed broadcast treaty, proposes a way forward on limitations and exceptions, and urges the removal of work on a ‘pay to lend’ fee by libraries. Education International will participate in the Committee meeting that will take place in Geneva on 6-8 November 2023.