Copyright – its presence or absence, its rules, its details – impacts, informs, and even shapes, the activities of researchers and research libraries. This centrality of copyright is affirmed in RLUK’s current strategy – Reshaping Scholarship. One of the strategy’s eight challenges overtly focuses on the role of copyright, and intellectual property rights more broadly. At the same time, the strategy as a whole, notably the Open Scholarship strand, demonstrably relates to and intersects with the role of copyright in research. Open Access, digital and digitisation, licensing – these are copyright matters, at very least in part.

As an intellectual property right that protects most recorded creations of the mind – from novels, to paintings, reports, films, music and more – the prevalence and centrality of copyright in research is unsurprising, if, perhaps at times, somewhat daunting. Copyright is an automatic right, meaning it arises without registration (in contrast, for example, to other intellectual property rights, such as patents). As an unregistered right, there is no helpful list of all in-copyright works, or of all copyright owners. Protection is long-lasting, normally in place for 70 years after the last living creator of a work dies. And, of course, legislation and case law are detailed and storied – as a form of protection, copyright has been around in one form or another for centuries, and current UK legislation stretches over decades and hundreds of pages.

In short, copyright matters. Copyright matters for research libraries, for researchers, for everyone who benefits from research and from scholarship. That said, of the challenges identified in Reshaping Scholarship, copyright is among the least directly controllable. Copyright support for scholarship in this context is, therefore, largely a matter of persuasion, influence, and tenacious advocacy for an effective and balanced legal framework. RLUK actively works towards developing and sustaining a positive copyright framework in the UK, notably through membership of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA). LACA is an informal group of copyright experts that has advocated the copyright interests of libraries, archives, and their users for over thirty years. Members are drawn from institutions, associations, and communities – from national libraries, archives, and museums, health and public libraries, copyright communities, and academia.

With the steer and input of its members, including RLUK, LACA’s core objectives include providing, supplementing, and supporting the copyright lobbying and advocacy of the sectors. This is about maintaining a clear, informed, and passionate voice from libraries and archives, to argue for positive reform that will help scholarship thrive and to counter regression that can reduce access to knowledge.

Some of LACA’s advocacy priorities are large-scale and long-term. For example, LACA is making the continued case for reduction of the ‘2039’ copyright duration. This rather anomalous copyright duration rule currently means most unpublished works are in-copyright until at least the end of the year 2039, even if they were created centuries ago. Over-protection of historic works does not support innovation and scholarship.

At the same time, other LACA priorities may be somewhat technical, but are scoped with the potential for wide impact. For example, LACA advocates that all ‘exceptions to copyright’ (the parts of copyright law that permit limited use of in-copyright works without explicit permission, such as quoting from a work) should be lawfully enjoyable without fear of contractual or technical measures unfairly getting in the way. Tangible improvements were made in this area in 2014, when major changes to the UK’s copyright laws came into force, including ‘no contract override’ clauses on a number of exceptions to copyright. However, ‘no contract override’ does not yet apply to all exceptions, and the UK lacks an effective framework for ensuring technical measures do not unfairly inhibit the otherwise-lawful use of exceptions to copyright, such as the exception that supports the use of text and data mining of in-copyright material.

LACA’s copyright advocacy priorities were codified in 2015’s London Manifesto, which set out ten central advocacy points around which group has aligned its efforts. The targets were ambitious, but rooted in challenges that face the sectors and focused on areas where real and positive movement can be achieved. The relevance and importance of these ambitions was ratified by the Manifesto’s 120+ signatories.

With the UK preparing to leave the European Union, this is an important time to examine these priorities afresh. The Manifesto was determinedly focused on European policymaking, which has been central to copyright reform in recent years, as demonstrated recently by the often rancorous debates around a proposed new Copyright Directive. However, with UK policymaking expected to be shaped more directly at the UK level, LACA is re-examining the Manifesto priorities to ensure they are set in a form that is best-suited to UK-level advocacy.

Copyright advocacy priorities for LACA must, of course, be generated in relation to the copyright challenges and needs of the library and archive sectors, and the communities they serve. RLUK’s strategy, and the challenges it enumerates, helps inform LACA’s work, as does the participation of RLUK and other members in the group. In addition, LACA is always interested to hear from practitioners in research libraries and the wider sectors, as well as individuals from communities served by libraries and archives. If you have copyright policy concerns or aspirations that you would like to raise, please contact LACA using the details available at, or contact RLUK.

Fred Saunderson
National Library of Scotland and Chair of LACA

About LACA

LACA advocates for a fair and balanced copyright framework which respects the rights of copyright holders whilst placing equal value on the importance of users’ liberties. In particular, LACA’s aims are:

  • To be active and effective in promoting, advocating and lobbying on behalf of our members.
  • To raise and maintain awareness about copyright and licensing in the library, archive and information sectors.
  • To work with colleagues internationally to bring about a harmonised legislative framework, effective for the digital age, that facilitates cross-border working.
  • To collaborate with the UK’s education and cultural heritage sector to encourage a
    joined-up approach.