COVID-19 and Copyright

When it’s all over, done with, and dusted, COVID-19 will be remembered for different things. Prominent on the list will be fear, uncertainty, and toilet paper. There are many others which may not be getting the attention duly deserved, but affect the lives of millions of global citizens.  

In most parts of the world, pre-k through twelfth grade, colleges, and universities have all gone virtual. Distance learning, e-learning or online learning, however you prefer to label it, has become the new normal. Wherever and whenever content is created, used, shared, and redistributed, the issue of copyright and intellectual property cannot be discarded.

Mike Masnick, in a write-up on the nature of our permission culture, reviews the effects of this pandemic on our already cumbersome copyright laws and vice versa. Unless a material is in the public domain, the fact that something is publicly available does not mean that it does not require a license or permission. We operate from the assumption that a material is copyrighted whether there is a copyright statement and or symbol on it or not. Once it is the intellectual property of someone and it was not created and produced with public funds, whoever owns the copyright must be sought and permission obtained.

In this COVID-19 era when there is a proliferation and use of e-learning and collaboration platforms, even with fair use license provisions and recent special contingencies like Pandemic License and Education Continuity License, not everything permissible in a classroom setting can be replicated online. Interestingly an author must publicly designate a work as covered under the Pandemic License before it can be read aloud in an online classroom or a recording of such reading be uploaded in an e-learning management platform. This is getting in the way of teachers and online collaborators. It’s causing unnecessary delays in knowledge sharing and acquisition.

We are already dealing with a lot. Can life progress without fear of liability suits and when this is all over, get post-usage clearance or take down such content?  There hasn’t been a global pandemic in a century and the last time there was one, the Internet wasn’t here with us. Maybe this is a good time to review our copyright laws in the wake of what appears to be the new normal, going forward. YourKnow and other platforms stand to gain and education will be the better for it.