McMaster's new copyright officer

By Danelle D'Alvise, Research Communications, March 9, 2006

    Chabriol Colebatch Photo credit: Deborah McIvor
We've all seen the dire warning from the FBI that pops up when we first load a movie into our DVDs or VCRs, advising us of serious consequences for unauthorized copying. And who hasn't stood at a photocopying machine -- and barely acknowledged -- the information posted at the photocopier, reminding you that "whatever you copy, do it legally."

The notion that it's illegal to copy someone else's original work has filtered down into our collective understanding. The issue of copyright is complicated, however, far more than a warning on a TV screen or a poster on the wall would suggest. This is especially evident in the unique circumstances that arise in academic institutions, compounded further by the challenges and opportunities of the Internet.

Enter Chabriol Colebatch, McMaster's recently hired full-time copyright officer, appointed and fully funded by the C4 Initiative. The C4 -- a partnership between McMaster, the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo and the University of Western Ontario -- is based on a joint vision for co-ordination, co-operation, collaboration and commercialization. Colebatch works closely with faculty members and researchers in all university departments to offer insights into copyright and to help each university commercialize its copyright.

Colebatch, who previously worked as an intellectual property lawyer in Australia, has already started on a variety of projects, including preparing copyright notice and guidelines for the new self-service scanners in Mills library, clarifying the many questions about the usage of Internet materials, and securing copyright ownership of computer software and electronic databases where joint authors are involved.

"When most people think of copyright, they think of books or music," notes Colebatch, "but it encompasses so much more than that. Computer programs, diagnostic questionnaires, graphs and web pages are just some examples of what copyright can protect. It's not only about copying a chapter from a book, downloading the latest song from the Internet or burning a DVD copy of a hit movie."

Beyond the legal ramifications of the Copyright Act, copyrighting original materials can also provide potential benefits to our university, offering yet another dimension to McMaster's research enterprise. Copyright already generates significant income for McMaster University and, if properly exploited, has the potential to bring in much more revenue.

Dean of Humanities, Nasrin Rahimieh, believes that the Bertrand Russell letter collection is an example of one of McMaster's unmined gems that could benefit both the University and the global online community. The Russell Archives are in possession of thousands of Russell's letters and, if digitized, than properly copyright protected, the thousands of letters in the collection could be made available on a subscription or fee per use basis.

"The shape of our scholarly world has changed significantly with the advent of the Internet and faculty is encountering issues of copyright in lecture situations and while conducting their own research. Having access to a copyright expert -- to help us best use Internet resources, or navigate through the process of digitizing sources we own, or simply provide advice on scholarly copyright -- is certainly a boon to our Faculty," says Rahimieh.

Colebatch has been working out of the Office of Research Contracts and Intellectual Property (ORCIP) since late January, joining ORCIP's team to add further value to the University's research mission. The Office of Research Contracts and Intellectual Property relocated (in September 2005) to their new offices in the McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) on Longwood Road.

Mamdouh Shoukri, vice-president, research and international affairs, says that, "this new copyright officer position and C4 initiative reflect McMaster's commitment to catalyze commercial opportunities arising from university research. We are invested in promoting and protecting the interests of our researchers."

The C4 Initiative was established to support the development and commercialization of research and received funding for the copyright officer position from the Intellectual Property Mobilization Program (IPM), funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Colebatch will share her time between the four universities, as well as provide assistance to Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Windsor. She is available to provide support and advice on any copyright matters and to offer strategies to protect and advance copyright.

For more information, contact Chabriol at extension 28640 or e-mail her at colebatch@ip.mcmaster.ca.