Blueprint for copyright issues delivered

The U.S. Copyright Office yesterday delivered to Congress a six-month study designed to serve as a blueprint for copyright issues that have arisen amid the explosion of state distance-learning programs.

Mandated by last year's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the study capsulizes complex copyright issues surrounding the use of works in distance-learning programs. Copyright registrar Marybeth Peters testified that many schools have difficulty licensing works for distance-education efforts because copyright owners can be hard to track down or may want unreasonable fees for use of their material. Most common are problems with journal articles and audiovisual materials, she said.

Peters predicted that technology trends indicate that it soon will become easier and more effective to incorporate digital licensing programs and that the use of electronic copyright management information and online licensing systems will increase.

"The need to provide technological security for copyrighted works in the digital environment has been recognized in all sectors, not just for distance education. Technology companies and content providers are working to develop commercially viable protection technologies, and industries are collaborating to develop standards," she said.

Copyright issues are further complicated by the fact that no two distance-learning programs are the same. "Instructors sometimes build courses from scratch, and sometimes customize templates provided by commercial software. They may combine any or all of the technological tools available today, including e-mail, threaded discussions, chat rooms" or other media including World Wide Web sites or interactive CD-ROMs, she said.

The new study will be posted at www.loc.gov/copyright/disted.

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