The sector’s largest trade union has warned universities and colleges to give staff copyright and performance rights over online and recorded lectures.
The University and College Union (UCU) said it was already in dispute with the University of Exeter over its performance rights policy, which, it claims, retains control over lecturers’ recorded material for five years.
The union warned universities could face disputes if they retain control over recorded material without staff permission, especially if retained “to justify job cuts or break industrial action”. Many universities have said some teaching will remain online in the forthcoming academic year – and staff recorded many extra hours of material last year during the pandemic.
Universities should accept that staff who recorded lectures, seminars and teaching “accrue performance rights, as well as copyright, of accompanying materials” if that material is retained for more than one academic year, UCU said on 2 September. Universities should seek permission from staff if they want to retain recorded material for any longer, the union added.
“The proposal would restrict the distribution of the recordings to only the relevant students and would be suspended during disputes so that performances of employees in dispute cannot be used until the dispute is resolved,” the union explained.
UCU also wants universities to set out how they plan to meet “legal requirements over data protection and intellectual property rights” relating to recorded materials – as well as the expected workload of blended learning on staff.
More students than ever are choosing to enter higher education, employers need to respond by recruiting and retaining staff so students get the best possible standard of teaching, not by holding onto old recordings and recycling outdated content
– Jo Grady, UCU
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University and college staff are rightly worried that employers could use the Covid pandemic as an excuse to record lectures and store them for later use. Staff put a huge amount of effort into creating lectures, and regularly update and adapt them in response to recent events and changes in teaching methods. Reusing old lectures divorces the material from the context in which it was created, and has the potential to degrade student learning and academic standards, so providers need to reassure both students and staff that they will not misuse recorded lectures.
“We are putting employers on notice that staff are prepared to take action if recorded lectures are reused without proper licensing agreements. Every recorded teaching session is the work of that member of staff, and only they can agree how it should be used. Universities and colleges need to work with staff and unions to ensure proper plans are made to meet legal requirements and take account of the additional workload staff face to make sure digital content is fit for purpose. If staff are both poorly paid and overworked then it is students who will inevitably suffer. More students than ever are choosing to enter higher education, employers need to respond by recruiting and retaining staff so students get the best possible standard of teaching, not by holding onto old recordings and recycling outdated content.”
A spokesperson for the University of Exeter told University Business: “We are in discussions with the UCU in Exeter on our Policy on Digital Learning Resources and aim to make progress on the outstanding issues at the next scheduled meeting on 9th September.”
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