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'Hands off' online lecture recordings, UCU tells universities and colleges

3 September 2021

UCU has today warned universities and colleges across the UK they may face industrial disputes if they misuse recorded lectures and withhold performance rights from staff.

The call comes as three out of five universities say most lectures will remain online as they plan for a blend of online and in-person teaching this academic year.

During the pandemic, university and college workers delivered and adapted lectures, seminars and teaching sessions for online use, allowing education to continue whilst campus provision was rolled back. However, the union has now warned education providers that workers must retain control over their recorded performances, preventing their work from being used without their permission to justify job cuts or break industrial action.

The union also says that education providers must not get into the habit of storing recordings for later use as staff regularly update their teaching work to protect student learning and academic standards.

UCU is currently in dispute with the University of Exeter due to its performance rights policy which seeks to retain control over a worker's recorded material for five years.

Now, UCU is calling on universities and colleges across the UK to accept that those delivering recorded lectures, seminars and teaching sessions accrue performance rights, as well as copyright of accompanying materials. Giving a lecture is considered a 'performance' for the purpose of intellectual property law.

The union wants education providers to agree to an initial licensing period of no longer than one academic year, which can be extended with the express consent of the relevant member of staff. The proposal would restrict the distribution of the recordings to only the relevant students and would be suspended during disputes so that performances of employees in dispute cannot be used until the dispute is resolved.

The union has produced guidance on staff performance rights [344kb] and is calling on universities and colleges to explain what plans they have to meet legal requirements over data protection and intellectual property rights and what additional workload expectations are being placed on staff. UCU has emphasised the need for universities and colleges to agree a fair system with local UCU branches to ensure teacher pay and workload is not forgotten in the drive for blended learning.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'University and college staff are rightly worried that employers could use the Covid pandemic as an excuse to record lectures and store them for later use. Staff put a huge amount of effort into creating lectures, and regularly update and adapt them in response to recent events and changes in teaching methods. Reusing old lectures divorces the material from the context in which it was created, and has the potential to degrade student learning and academic standards, so providers need to reassure both students and staff that they will not misuse recorded lectures.

'We are putting employers on notice that staff are prepared to take action if recorded lectures are reused without proper licensing agreements. Every recorded teaching session is the work of that member of staff, and only they can agree how it should be used. Universities and colleges need to work with staff and unions to ensure proper plans are made to meet legal requirements and take account of the additional workload staff face to make sure digital content is fit for purpose. If staff are both poorly paid and overworked then it is students who will inevitably suffer. More students than ever are choosing to enter higher education, employers need to respond by recruiting and retaining staff so students get the best possible standard of teaching, not by holding onto old recordings and recycling outdated content.'

Last updated: 20 September 2021