School had just reopened in a public university in Ghana with students queued to register their courses for the semester.
I noticed several business centres teeming with students struggling to get copies of copyrighted materials. I inquired why copyrighted materials were being photocopied and I was informed that those were prescribed textbooks for the semester.
In contrast with a premier private university, photocopying copyrighted material is strictly prohibited as the university provides required books and a library stocked with adequate reference books which are routinely replaced with new editions. Resultantly, students in this private university have easy access to educational resources and know the dangers of plagiarism.
This leads to the questions: why does the public university promote such acts? How ethical can graduates of such a university become? This article focuses on the unethical acquisition and use of information resources in teaching and learning activities, among others.
Information resources are collections of relevant, credible, authentic information in all formats generated by humans. The sources of information include hardcopy books, journal articles, encyclopaedias, databases, library resources, as well as the use of the interconnected network of computers and other technology devices as retrieval tools for digital information use.
The desire to wrongly acquire goods and services for personal gain is a selfish act that is corruptible, unethical, and unacceptable. Such attitudes and the wrong use of information resources are commonplace in businesses and educational institutions. Information is created through knowledge and shared in print and electronic formats to the public as open access or at a fee by proprietary.
Information science professionals acquire and manage credible, authentic, and current information in print and electronic formats and disseminate for easy access to users in specialised fields, education, the corporate environment, and the public. Though information may be shared freely or acquired at a fee, its use is governed by ethical requirements.
Open access and proprietary information
Information use requires licensing and copyright application for open-access and proprietary licenses for ethical use. Open-access information provides free, unrestricted, unalterable, and worldwide perpetual access but enforces fair use and award of credence to authors.
According to Sitek and Bertelmann, open-access resources enforce appropriate authorship attribution and responsible use of published works. Tomline added that the copyright on open-access resources only grants authors credence for work integrity. Proprietary information is provided at a fee and licensed with copyright restrictions and authentications.
The copyright law and ethical use support open and proprietary access and use of information. Muller-Langer and Watt also posited that copyright licences provide paywalls and restrictions to access and use of information.
In Ghana, the copyright permissions for print information use are subject to the Copyright Act 2005, (Act 690), under permitted use of works protected by copyright for reprographic reproduction.
Globally, the electronic open access format is protected by the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licences. In contrast, proprietary licences grant permission for the amount to download, print, copy, share, and the extent of translation and adaptation.
Users of information resources
Most users of information resources are students, teachers, faculty, researchers, and the corporate world. Such users of information resources are consumers of information for various purposes, including teaching, learning, research, and enhancement of products and services for development. Information can be sourced in-person or through different types of libraries.
Corrupt use of information resources
Extant research reveals that corrupt acts of print information resources include mishandling, mutilation, defacing, excessive photocopying, sharing, and mis-shelving. The emergence of electronic information addressed the situation to an extent with regard to defacement and excessive photocopying. However, electronic information still suffers corrupt actions such as copy and paste, excessive printing, as well as unlawful sharing and citation, especially with open-access resources.
Also, there is non-compliance to the open-access or proprietary licences of open and proprietary electronic information resources. Such acts violate the copyright law and licensing rights and are considered unethical, corrupt, and illegal.
Managing corrupt use of information resources
The corrupt use of information may be rooted in the high demand for limited information resources and unawareness of the copyright obligations and licensing rights, among others.
Acquisition of print and electronic sources of information resources proportionate to the required number of users may avoid excessive reprographic reproduction. Publishers could reduce the paywalls and cost of licensing electronic resources and grant more unlimited, perpetual, and concurrent rights to users. Tella et al., asserted that the ongoing economic recession and the increasing cost of information resources prevent libraries from acquiring all information materials necessary for users.
Reduced cost of subscriptions to perpetual, concurrent, unlimited access to electronic information with authentications for use may address the issue of excessive downloading, excessive reprographic reproduction, and inappropriate and unauthorised sharing.
Also, collaboration, partnership, and resource sharing are key to addressing the anomalies. Creating awareness and enforceable copyright law and licensing rights, to information resources, with sanctions, may play a key role in addressing the anomaly. Enforcing ethical use of information and adherence to the open access and proprietary licensing terms with the use of software such as Turnitin may prevent practices that lead to ethical violations of information use.
Awareness of the issues and readiness to address corruptible use and abuse of information will help curb or minimise the act.
The writers are a lecturer, and Snr. Assistant Librarian of Ashesi University respectively
Source: Dr Enyonam Canice Kudonoo & Dinah Koteikor Baidoo
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