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In late 2015, Victoria University adopted the digital copyright management system Talis-Aspire in accordance with the terms of their most recent licence from Copyright Licensing Limited (CLL).
The official line for the implementation of Talis is the benefit it has for staff and students, summed up in the ITS Course Materials Programme: Project Charter 2015 as “improvement in management of reading lists for staff” and “improvement in visibility and planning of reading for students.”
Despite this, Salient can reveal that Talis instead emerged from a legal compromise, with its predominant function being to ensure VUW is copyright compliant.
Talis is a “pilot e-reporting scheme” and monitors the volume of copyrighted material used by the university, providing it to CLL.
Students and staff alike have expressed frustration with the new model saying that not only was communication poor prior to its introduction but that it is difficult to use and incredibly time consuming.
Salient dug a little deeper to figure out exactly what went down leading up to the overhaul and what it means for those engaging with it on a regular basis.
CLL and copyright at the university
CLL, a non-profit copyright licensing body, acts on behalf of owners of copyright (e.g. publishers) from New Zealand and overseas, negotiating licences with Universities New Zealand (UNZ).
A licence obtained from CLL allows the university to reproduce and distribute copyrighted material for educational purposes in accordance with the Copyright Act 1994.
VUW’s previous licence was to expire in February 2013, but was extended as negotiations for the new one reached an impasse after CLL proposed a $6 increase to the per Equivalent Full-time Student (EFTS) licence fee, as well as further annual increases in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The previous licence fee was $20 per EFTS and the proposed increase would have meant VUW would have to pay an extra ~$126,000 per year.*
UNZ deemed the fee increase unacceptable and CLL refused to negotiate unless the universities accepted it. The dispute was brought before the Copyright Tribunal by CLL, who hoped their proposal for the new licence would be deemed reasonable.
The case appeared before the High Court of New Zealand in 2014, was appealed in 2015, and the resulting Pilot Licence Agreement 2015-2016 (PLA), between CLL and VUW, appeared as a compromise.
The PLA, acquired by Salient under the Official Information Act (OIA), allows for a single article from a periodical publication (or more than one from an issue of the publication if the articles cover “the same subject matter”), ten per cent or one chapter from a work other than a periodical publication (e.g. a book), up to 15 pages of a single work contained within a collection, and the whole of an artistic work (e.g. illustration) to be reproduced in hard copy or electronic form and be provided to students for educational purposes.
The licence also stipulated that the university implement a “pilot e-reporting scheme” (Talis) to record the “bibliographic details and volume data” of copyrighted material to “enable CLL to distribute the licence fee to the appropriate copyright owners in a cost-effective way.”
Talis was introduced to some university courses in the first half of 2016, with the university needing to have implemented the solution fully by the end of Trimester Two.
What is Talis? Why is it causing difficulties?
The function of Talis is to ensure that the conditions of the PLA are not broken and that the university remains copyright compliant.
It replaces the manual survey that the university was required to complete every five years under the previous licence. According to University Librarian Janet Fletcher, it will “provide a substantial increase in the accuracy of information provided to CLL.”
Course-readers are being phased out in favour of digitised readings that are distributed to students through the Talis software and in this respect a lot of its functions overlap with those already provided by Blackboard.
Talis offers improvements to course reading lists which are elaborated upon on the university website: staff are able to “reuse reading list items easily on several courses” and “collaborate on reading lists with other staff,” while also being given “easy real-time access to update and add to reading material for students.”
However staff and students have raised concerns over a number of issues with the system and the copyright compliance requirements.
A Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS) staff member who wished to remain anonymous said there had been “frustration and confusion” from staff who have failed to receive a unified message from university management as to the exact function of, and intention behind, the Talis software.
They said the system had been implemented from the top down and that staff were frustrated due to “a lack of coordination between the library, the university management, and the academic staff.”
When asked whether staff or students had been consulted regarding the implementation of Talis, Fletcher said that students and wider university staff “were not consulted.”
This comes despite a 2015 memo from from Stuart Haselden (Director of ITS) and Noelle Nelson (previous University Librarian) to the Information Technology Strategy and Oversight Committee (ITSOC) stating “it is important that staff understand the reasoning and need behind the change so they are engaged with the project.” The ITS Course Materials Programme: Project Charter 2015 stated a ‘critical success factor’ to the installation of Talis is that “the VUW user base expresses satisfaction with implementation, training, communication and support activities undertaken during the project.”
The FHSS staff member said they had attended several meetings about Talis and were given slightly different information each time. They found there was not a clear interpretation of what material could be provisioned under the new agreement.
They said Talis has been “a roadblock” for some courses and that some of their colleagues had spent “several days getting their readings on Talis.”
The university, arguing “quality control” reasons, stipulated that only library staff were allowed to copy readings for upload to Talis. The staff member said library staff have been helpful but have been overwhelmed with digitisation requests and have had limited knowledge as to what material can and cannot be provisioned under the licence.
Students have also reported concerns with the Talis agreement. As mentioned, University Librarian Janet Fletcher said there was no consultation with students.
The shift to digitised readings requires students to have consistent access to the internet and a computer, and if students wish to print readings they have to pay the library printing fees.
Emily Tombs, a fourth year law student, told Salient she found the system a “nightmare” to deal with.
Referring to a LAWS 350 course, she stated there were major issues; the system failed in the first weeks of the course and students could not access readings.
The way that readings are uploaded to Talis, on a week by week basis, meant she has been unable to read ahead when her assignment load is low.
Tombs also has concerns regarding the phasing out of course-readers in favour of digitised readings on Talis. She suggested this was a particular issue for law courses as lecturers frequently refer to specific pages numbers and case points, exams are often open-book and require students to work off of readings, and Tomb said “the way I annotate my readings” is no longer possible under Talis.
The issues with CLL and Talis raise a number of questions about copyright generally in the university environment.
In a 2012 email from Grant Wills (an executive officer at the University of Auckland) to Paula Browning (CLL’s chief executive) rejecting the proposed increase to the licence fee, it is stated: “If there is any interruption in the availability of copyright materials staff will stop using the CLL materials and direct students to electronic database services we already pay for. If this happens the role of CLL will quickly vanish.”
Wills exposes the somewhat precarious ground beneath CLL. In the digital age students have access to a wealth of academic material through the library and the electronic databases that it hosts—CLL is able to survive as not all material is digitised and a large amount exists only in hardcopy.
More generally, the free-sharing of academic material and a collaborative approach to study and research are restricted by copyright as it protects property rights and incentivises research for the economic gain of the institution in which it is produced.
UNZ, when rejecting the increase to the licence fee, never challenged the underlying system of copyright. They were concerned with being charged too much as they benefit from the same system. Under NZ law “employers are the first owner of intellectual property created by employees during their normal course of employment.”
While copyright seems an entrenched system, there are alternatives. Creative Commons Aotearoa (CCA) emerged from the Creative Commons movement of the US, with a goal to “promote an intellectual commons of participatory culture, in the face of increasingly restrictive copyright laws.”
CCA offers a number of licences for owners of copyright and in 2014 Waikato University became the first New Zealand university to implement an open access mandate which means “academic staff can disseminate their research as widely as possible, bringing research results out from behind the subscription paywall to be accessed by all.”
* This figure is an approximate, calculated on the basis of VUW having a student population of 21,000. It does not include GST or CLL’s proposal for CPI adjustments.