In a simultaneous release to cinema and web, American University (10-12 Dec) is releasing a film  on the experiences of South African documentary filmmakers with copyright. 

The film finds that copyright laws in South Africa and in many other countries allow for the use of such material as music, still images, news footage or even images from commercial films by filmmakers and others to create new expressive works.

I picked up this piece of news in my emails on my return from a meeting with David Wood, legal counsel for the European-based Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace (ICOMP) on issues associated with trust, safety and competition online.  

Representatives from AUT University, PRINZ, Microsoft, University of Auckland, advertisers and book publishers joined me to discuss with David anti-trust and consumer protection laws that might control search-engine domination of the internet.  Even by writing this I could bring about repercussions that could make this almost invisible blog even less visible, as it would be easy for such search-engines to make us disappear.

I suppose the question is whether the apparent removal from search engines of shopping sites and other aggregates that compete with search engines was accidental.  Certainly, ICOMP’s David Wood, who works from Brussels regards such incidents as a cause for concern. 

Very like the Oceania Centre for Social Media, ICOMP sponsors conferences and media events, issues research papers, and advocates a more competitive, transparent and secure online environment.  So any interference or censoring and copyright limitations are major issues for internet publishers, whether of academic websites or creative works:  Especially as Microsoft (Bing) and News Corp. are now joining together to introduce pay-walls for news.

The irony is that, while that is happening, universities and individual scholars are moving in the opposite direction -- increasingly towards open source publication, including course content, research results and written articles.  In the spirit of such sharing, I refer you to and, both of which are mentioned in the paper on open course-ware (OCW) materials. 

The authors of a new code of practice for OCW note that, like South African documentary films, OCW materials often integrate third-party materials.   Sometimes this means that those producing OCW will be required to secure permission from copyright owners and “clear the rights” in order to proceed with the intended use. 

As I and my fellow editors found when writing the just-published Public relations and communication management: an Aotearoa/New Zealand perspective (2009), the process of securing permissions or licenses from copyright owners is rarely an easy, inexpensive, certain, or straightforward enterprise.  Gary Mersham, Petra Theunissen and I are most grateful to Pearson Education for doing most of this work. 

Fortunately, there are instances under copyright law where rights clearance is not necessary. Fair use is one such instance. Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances—especially when the cultural or social benefits of the use are predominant.  

However, the question of whether “Fair Use” applies or not is too often left to lawyers and librarians, who take a more cautious view than academics and can stifle the entire learning process by demanding that permission be obtained before teaching and learning materials are made available to students. 

Again our colleagues in the United States have the benefit of more resources to direct at these questions and for their wisdom, you can consult the document “Yes, You Can!” and Cornell Copyright Center

Incidentally, a the tope of the Cornell site was a computer generated question whether I wanted to run the add-on  “2007 Microsoft Office component”, whatever that is.  Don’t you hate it when that happens?


Have a great Christmas and flying start to the New Year.


Joseph Peart