Dan McGuire

Copyright sleuth (almost) always gets permission

February 7, 2008

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By Diane Luckow

Dan McGuire (above) has one of those behind-the-scenes jobs at SFU that few people know about. Yet without his sleuthing abilities and patience, most SFU professors would find themselves without course materials for their students.

That’s because McGuire’s job is to track down the rightful owners of videos, audio tapes and online information and then secure permission for professors to copy and distribute those works in the classroom.

McGuire enjoys the hunt, which puts him in contact with people around the world. His quickest permission came in just 11 minutes; more often it can take several days to several weeks and sometimes, never.

Part of McGuire’s job as digital licensing specialist with the Learning and Instructional Development Centre is to teach faculty about copyright laws. “In Canada, we have ‘fair dealing’ which is very much oriented towards one person,” he explains. “So, a student in the library can copy an article, but a professor copying an article and handing it out to all of his students wouldn’t be fair dealing.”

Despite offering workshops and seminars on copyright, McGuire still finds faculty members who try to avoid the copyright issue. Their most common mistake “is believing that because somebody put something on the Web, they can repurpose it,” he says. “Publishing something on the Web is not granting blanket permission to do what you want with it.”

McGuire recalls one professor who wanted to use a large quantity of online material in his course, but wasn’t confident of his right to use it. Instead of seeking out McGuire’s assistance, he posted the material on a Monday and took it down on Friday of the same week in hopes that only his students would know.

“That was amusing,” says McGuire, “because the work was actually in the public domain. There was no need to take it down or worry about it.” Another time, he remembers a professor who spent almost six hours trying to remove a digital watermark from an image he wanted to use in the classroom. When McGuire discovered this and sought approval, the owner not only gave permission but sent along four gigabytes of additional high-quality images.

In fact, says McGuire, the majority of copyright responders express gratitude for being asked permission and almost always grant that permission.
“As a university, we both create and use intellectual property,” he says. “If we want to have the work we create respected, we should respect the work of others and their rights.”
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