by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, research

Is Copyright Holding Back Research?

from the but-of-course dept

When we write about copyright issues here, it's not uncommon for people to say "well, fine, if you don't like copyright, don't use it, but why do you care if others use it?" Indeed. If copyright didn't interfere with the rights of others, that would be a reasonable point. The problem, however, is that it quite frequently does interfere with all kinds of rights. Michael Scott points us to a recent study of communications professors, which determined that copyright quite frequently stifles or interferes with the research they're doing. One interesting aspect of this, however, is that it's often the perception of copyright law that is the problem:
A survey of communication scholars' practices, conducted by the Ad Hoc Committee on Fair Use and Academic Freedom in the International Communication Association (ICA), reveals that copyright ignorance and misunderstanding hamper distribution of finished work, derail work in progress, and most seriously, lead communication researchers simply to avoid certain kinds of research altogether.

Nearly half the respondents express a lack of confidence about their copyright knowledge in relation to their research. Nearly a third avoided research subjects or questions and a full fifth abandoned research already under way because of copyright concerns. In addition, many ICA members have faced resistance from publishers, editors, and university administrators when seeking to include copyrighted works in their research. Scholars are sometimes forced to seek copyright holders' permission to discuss or criticize copyrighted works. Such permission seeking puts copyright holders in a position to exercise veto power over the publication of research, especially research that deals with contemporary or popular media.
Now, one response to this might be that these professors need to be better educated on the boundaries, exceptions and limits to copyright law. However, it's not so simple. Part of the reason why there is so much fear of copyright law is because of the actions of many copyright holders, who not only aggressively push an extreme version of copyright law out to the public -- such as the MPAA's infamous (infamously wrong) "if you haven't paid for it, you've stolen it" education campaing -- but who have used ridiculously high statutory rates to publicize the idea that for very marginal copyright infringement, you may be liable for millions in damages awards (not counting legal fees).

The copyright holders themselves have been trying to paint this picture of copyright as being much more than it really is -- and as a result of that, it's now actively stifling all kinds of important research.

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  1. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 9 Jun 2010 @ 1:23am


    For example, I am a psychologist and currently working on neuropsychology research and some times I just abandoned certain research proposals due to copyright-related problems e.g. can't download the necessary papers because my institution doesn't have a subscription there for the time being or usage of certain types of questionnaires and tests are way too expensive to use them in a wide number of subjects.

    I can see where costs might prevent you from being able to use multiple copies of a test, but in terms of a research paper, if it is very important to you and you can't access it through your own university, have you tried to contact the author directly for a copy or even asked a colleague at a different university to make a copy for you and send it to you?

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