We created an OER – The GCU Copyright Advisor

For the month of May 2020, Glasgow Caledonian University’s (GCU) Sir Alex Ferguson Library are curating the Open Scotland blog. The topics GCU are presenting provide an insight into the work they do in supporting open practice, open education, and open educational resources.

In this post, Resource Librarian (Systems) Nicky Stewart of the library’s Collections and Discovery team discusses the development of GCU’s very own OER – The GCU Copyright Advisor – and what the future might hold for it.

The image is a comic by Marion Kelt which succinctly illustrates the process of developing the Copyright Advisor in 11 colourful panels

The image above is a comic by Marion Kelt which succinctly illustrates the process of developing the Copyright Advisor in 11 colourful panels. Copyright Comics: the UK Online Copyright Advisor by Marion Kelt, licensed under CC BY 4.0


How do you get people to engage with copyright legislation?

How do you get them to apply it correctly?

Here at GCU we asked ourselves these very questions back in 2014. And the solution, we decided, was to make it easier for people to do these things. From that realisation was born our first open educational resource (OER): the GCU Copyright Advisor.


In 2014, the Digital Development team within GCU Library was given responsibility for providing copyright advice to members of the university community. This followed major changes to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 that same year. The team provided a copyright advisory service via a team mailbox, finding many of the queries were simple and often repeated from different sources. As the team worked to merge with the Resource Management team​ in 2015 to form the Collections and Discovery team, a project was devised to empower users to make informed decisions about copyright and resolve routine copyright queries by themselves.

Copyright Advisor 1.0

To do this we needed a tool that would allow users to find solutions to their copyright queries with minimal effort, something they could use online whenever the need arose. The team’s belief in open education guided them towards creating the tool with reusability at its heart. This meant producing something with a relatively simple design using non-proprietary software that could be easily updated to reflect future changes in copyright legislation. Additionally, the tool should be something we could publish as an OER, providing the means for others to remix and repurpose for their needs.

The Copyright Advisor project group was assembled in 2016 to develop content for the Copyright Advisor. The team decided that the advisor would provide advice on the formats we most frequently received queries about: audio recordings, book chapters, computer code, images, journal articles, maps, and videos. Over the course of many meetings the group designed decision tree diagrams that led the user through various questions regarding their resource and their intended use, with the result being appropriate advice based on their particular requirements. Once the content was complete, Marion Kelt transformed our diagrams into a usable tool using iSpring software. The following link shows an early version of the Copyright Advisor.

Improving the Copyright Advisor with SLIC funding

Despite the success of the original Copyright Advisor, there were several flaws with the service:

  • The iSpring design was not particularly easy to navigate or visually appealing
  • The tool was neither HTML5 nor mobile responsive
  • While iSpring was free to use, the tool had been built using proprietary software

The project team saw possibilities for improving on their creation. However, to realise our vision we knew we would need to employ the skills of a designer and/or developer, and to do that we would need money. It was at this time we became aware of a potential funding opportunity from the Scottish Library & Information Council (SLIC) through their Innovation Grant fund. We put together a funding bid based on the terms of reference for our project, articulating our vision for the improved Copyright Advisor.


  • HTML5, mobile responsive OER​
  • File formats easily updated and maintained by the GCU Copyright team
  • Not tied to any proprietary software​
  • Shared under a Creative Commons licence(CC-BY​)
  • Visually appealing and easy to navigate​

Target audience​

  • UK education community, including academics, students, and support staff​

Overall style

  • Professional, friendly and positive

We were delighted when our funding bid was accepted and SLIC awarded the £6,000 that would allow us to take the project forward. We immediately set to work liaising with our university Procurement and Information Compliance teams on the production of a short-term service contract​ for use with the selected designer/developer, before posting the opportunity to work with us on Creative Scotland Opportunities Tool. The post garnered attention from several designers, but having been aware of the great work they had produced for other copyright related projects, we were pleased to award Worth Knowing the contract following an interview conducted over Skype.

Following our design brief, Worth Knowing provided some early prototypes which helped us get a sense of the improved usability we would see in the final product, delivered by the new content management system underpinning the tool produced using Markdown coding language. The prototypes were followed by many discussions around design options, focusing on topics such as accessibility and legibility​, media format icons​ and colour schemes​.

With the designs finalised and prepared by Worth Knowing​, the files were uploaded to our GitHub account​ along with an explanation of the content management system​ and instructions on how to populate the content. Marion then set to work learning Markdown using online tutorials and trial and error. Once the tool had been populated there was time for a final proofread by the Copyright Advisor project team before launching on our educational repository edShare​ along with all files and instructions on how to reuse.

Promotion and reception of the improved Copyright Advisor

Marion took to the road promoting the redesigned Copyright Advisor at conferences both home and abroad, including:

  • Open Educational Resources (OER) 2017​
  • Icepops (European Conference on Information Literacy) 2017​
  • CILIP ARLG-SW DARTS Conference 2018​
  • OER 2019​
  • CILIPS Copyright Event 2019

It was also our great honour to be the recipient of the George Pitcher Award 2017​ for the Copyright Advisor.

Image of Marion Kelt accepting the George Pitcher Award 2017 for the Copyright Advisor

Marion Kelt accepting the George Pitcher Award 2017 for the Copyright Advisor

We’ve been able to follow the use of the advisor in its various iterations through analytics from edShare. Below you can see the number of page hits and file downloads as of 14th May 2020:

  • Version 1​
    • Launched October 2017
    • 151 hits​
  • Version 2​
    • Launched March 2018
    • 168 hits​
  • Version 3​
    • Launched January 2019
    • 168 hits​

Future developments

Prior to her untimely passing, Marion was working with a number of groups who were interested in remixing the Copyright Advisor for their own purposes, and we hope that we’ll see take up by other institutions in the future.

However, the potential of the advisor is not limited to the field of copyright, as the format of the advisor will work with any decision tree type process​. To that end, the library has identified two new projects where the advisor will be redeveloped to meet completely different needs. At present we are working with the university’s Research and Innovation Office and School of Professional Services to produce an advisory tool for principal investigators to correctly complete research application details into our research information system (Pure). And in the future we are looking to repurpose the advisor to produce an eresource access troubleshooter which can be used by both staff and students.

We’ll also be keeping an eye out for any changes to UK copyright legislation to ensure the Copyright Advisor is always up to date.

Nicky Stewart

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