Have Copyright Licences Been Relaxed Amid COVID-19?

JK Rowling recently announced a relaxation of the copyright licence terms usually associated with the series of Harry Potter books, thereby allowing teachers around the world to record and post videos of themselves reading the books.  The intention is for children who are unable to go to school to continue to enjoy the magic and educational benefits of the famous wizard’s adventures, from the confines of their homes.

But why is the relaxation of copyright licence terms even necessary?  Why would teachers require permission to post videos of them reading aloud from books?  It is the reproduction and publication of content that would otherwise not be happening when the teacher reads in the classroom, that creates the difficulty.

 

Where a work, such as a book or novel, letters, articles or even academic material, is protected by copyright as is the case with the Harry Potter books, there are certain things that only a copyright owner may do, or give permission to someone else to do.  These things, or acts, include, amongst others, making a reproduction of the work, publishing it, performing it in public or broadcasting the work.  Only the copyright owner may carry out these acts, and any other person wanting to do so needs permission.

According to South African legislation, a literary work, such as a book, is reproduced when it is included in a cinematograph film (video).  This means that, when a teacher records a video whilst reading from a book, a reproduction is being made for which permission is required.  Posting that video could amount to a further act of reproduction, whilst live streaming it could be considered a performance, alternatively, possibly even a broadcast.  Downloading the video would similarly constitute an act of reproduction which also requires permission.

 

The permissions required are typically granted by way of a licence.  Doing these acts without permission, constitutes copyright infringement.  The licence terms can vary but generally, in exchange for permission to carry out these acts, the copyright owner will raise a royalty fee.  This is how copyright protected work generates an income for their creators.

By relaxing the permission requirements (which has also been done under strict conditions including posting to secure and closed platforms, view them further here), teachers have been enabled to carry out these acts royalty free, safely and without fear of committing copyright infringement whilst home studying and the pure enjoyment of story time can continue.

In an environment where access to content has perhaps been limited, and sharing through various media has become rife, it is recommended that any exploitation of content created by others is only done with the necessary permission for “it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” – Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter in The Chamber of Secrets.

Werina Griffiths
Partner | Trade Mark Attorney