September Journal Club : Copyright and digital library development in the UK


Our first meeting of the Journal Club in 2019/20 met on Wednesday 4 September to talk about copyright and digital library development in the UK. Our discussion article was:

Muir, A. (2019). Copyright and digital academic library development in the UK. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51(3), 702–709.

This article was a historical overview of the challenges copyright related issues have presented for digital library development over the last twenty years, and a summary of library and legal developments that aimed to solve them. We found we disagreed with the author’s statement : “A key theme that emerges is the seeming incompatibility of the core role of libraries in facilitating access to knowledge”. Many digital copyright developments have been led by libraries, and we recognised many projects and initiatives that the University of Edinburgh has led or collaborated with in the author’s overview.

The article also reflected on the opportunities new legislation has created, and our group felt that copyright reforms in 2013 and 2016 mean that legislation is now reasonably well balanced. We discussed the opportunities created by the move towards open licensing, but also noted that there are some barriers to open access, often to do with infrastructure which doesn’t allow content to be made OA.

Looking towards the future, the article notes “ the UK’s future policy making has become less certain since it started the process of withdrawing from the European Union on 29 March 2017”. While the full potential impact of Brexit is not clear, we talked about how it will affect areas where significant progress has been made in recent years, such as the European Union Orphan Works Directive (2012/28/EU). For instance, this has supported a European Orphan Works database which enables progress to be made with digitising works for which the rights holder of the work is not known or cannot be found to ask permission to use the work.

The article did not discuss the significant role of library and information staff in raising the level of fundamental knowledge and understanding about copyright in the academic community. We felt that this was a really important task. If people are afraid of copyright and do not engage or comply with it, this creates potential risks for the University.

Our next Journal Club meeting will be held on 2 October in the Digital Scholarship Centre at the Main Library. For a full programme of Journal Club dates, please see


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