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Thursday, August 16, 2007


RQF and Copyright

[This is a guest post, written by Professor Kathy Bowrey, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales -- Catherine]

At a recent meeting at DEST about the RQF there were some comments made about problems with the creation of the digital repository where all the research material related to submissions made by Universities is to be stored. We were told they were still engaged in discussions and negotiations with publishers over rights.

This got me thinking- Well, rather than engage in discussions with publishers about this arguably non-commercial use of copyright works produced in the Higher ed sector, why not put the energy into drafting a copyright exception? After all, the Act is already full of them in relation to education and simplicity of the Act can hardly be a current goal. I guess there would be issues of retrospectivity for the past RQF period, but not for the future iterations. More law reform might be a more productive use of time and also be in the public interest.

But then I got to thinking- what rights do these publishers supposedly have?

Clearly they have rights to the typesetting of work they publish, but I doubt they are being so specific.

Putting aside completely the question of whether the author or their institutional employer actually own the works in the first place, most authors have book contracts with copyright provisions that are duly signed. But I have written a few book chapters for a number of local and international publishers and never once been asked to assign those rights. In terms of journals, I have only been asked once to sign a copyright agreement, and that one I altered to retain some rights. Most of my colleagues have never signed agreements in relation to the majority of their book chapters and journal articles. Doesn’t case law say that in these circumstances where there is no written agreement the publisher owns no more than a bare licence? If so, why is DEST talking to them about our work and presumably going to pay royalties for the privilege of having access to a copy of them for RQF purposes, taken from the budget that could otherwise go to other more important uses in our underfunded sector?


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