Print Page | Contact Us | Sign In | Join now
News & Press: Copyright

The Publishing Trap

03 May 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
The Publishing Trap

Jane Secker and Chris Morrison talk about the Publishing Trap, a board game they created to help research students and early career researchers understand their copying and licensing choices as they progress through their academic career.

The Publishing Trap could be -likened to the academic Game of Life1 -although it takes the inspiration for its name from the classic board game Mouse Trap.

Following the career of four fictional academic characters, players learn about the relationship between knowledge, impact and -money. They come to see how the choices they make about their own and other people’s intellectual property are in fact central to their academic success. The game was launched last October to celebrate Open Access week and since then there have been over 2,500 visits to the website, and it has been downloaded and played by people from around the world.

Why did we create the Publishing Trap?

As copyright specialists, we were increasingly being asked to provide guidance and support to researchers about issues related to open access, publishing and the evolving scholarly communications environment.

PhD students are now typically expected to deposit their theses in open access repositories. They may be expected to make decisions about the licences they apply to their work, consider open licences such as Creative Commons and understand how all these decisions they make impact on their careers.

For example, do they try to publish in high impact journals to boost their REF scores or do they publish on principle in open access journals to ensure their research has the maximum benefit to the wider world? What should academics do when asked to clear the copyright in other peoples’ images they want to use in a published monograph? And what happens when researchers want to ­re-use data from an open data set? These are real issues that academics and early career researchers face, and it’s a complex picture with no right and wrong answers.

Publishing trap
The copyright problem in HE

We’ve had many discussions about how to embed copyright literacy across higher education institutions. Our work started in 2014 when we carried out research into levels of knowledge about copyright across the library and cultural heritage sector.2 In 2015, we developed Copyright the Card Game,3 which is an open educational resource used for teaching librarians and academic support staff.

However, we were becoming increasingly aware that the academic community find it hard to engage with copyright and view it as a problem, ­often after they have published or shared their own or others’ work. For people who produce intellectual and creative outputs every day and make their living sharing their knowledge, it is a problem if they don’t have access to engaging information and resources to help them understand issues related to copyright and other aspects of intellectual property rights.

Similarly, PhD students now need to consider copyright issues, as many of their theses are made available via institutional repositories. In our experience, PhD students typically have low levels of understanding about copyright and the ownership of the data and knowledge they are using and creating. We really want to try to address this issue and find a way of engaging them in copyright education.

The aim of game

Chris initially came up with the idea for the game, inspired by attending a games-based learning event in Leeds organised by Andy Walsh from the University of Huddersfield (@playbrarian) in November 2015. His idea was to create a model that might explain how knowledge and money flowed between research institutions, publishers and academics, and the impact this had on the wider world.

We started talking more seriously about a game and decided to try to bring this idea to life by entering Lagadothon4, the games competition held at the Lilac conference.4 We devised a prototype game exploring the decisions a PhD student might make, such as whether to embargo their thesis and whether to apply a creative commons licence to it.

Even though the idea had yet to be properly developed (at that stage it was a large board, a lot of arrows fixed with Velcro and a stash of chocolate owls to bribe the judges), we received the runners up prize. Jane then came up with the idea of following the lifecycle of an academic, who completes their PhD and progresses to the pinnacle of their career as a Professor or eminent scholar in their field.

Games for learning

It was a long process to create a board game and we have both learnt a lot about the game design. We were delighted to get input from playful learning experts Professor Nicola Whitton at Manchester Metropolitan University and Alex Moseley at the University of Leicester. They tested an earlier version of the game, giving us a framework for approaching game design, encouraging us to focus on the learning. We went back to basics, creating learning outcomes for the game and considering how to structure the decisions people make at key points.

A crucial decision was to agree that players should be in a team and take on a persona or character to play the game. Creating our four academics: Mary, the astrophysicist; Simon, the Jane Austen scholar; Misha, the criminologist; and Brian, the microbiologist was a lot of fun. Any resemblance to any individuals living or dead is entirely unintentional! Spurred on by the considerable interest in our game, we enlisted a graphic designer, Lisa Johnstone to turn our hand-drawn board and clip art icons and characters into original creations.

How to play the game

The game is divided into rounds which correspond to the academic lifecycle. You start out as a newly completed PhD student, play a round as a post-doctoral researcher, then a junior lecturer, senior lecturer and finally become a professor.

Along the way you can improve your skills and have to draw wildcards between certain rounds that add an element of chance into the game, and contain all sorts of controversial scenarios, from being accused of plagiarism to having a mid-life crisis. The ultimate aim of the game is to reach the pearly gates and be judged on your academic legacy – are you heralded and celebrated in your field through a building named in your honour, or do you die in academic obscurity?

Despite the scoring mechanism, there is no one way to win the game and players need to think hard about balancing the need to generate income and secure funding with measuring impact and creating and disseminating new knowledge.

Through playing the game, we hope to help new researchers make choices that are aligned to their values.

Playtesting and feedback

We’ve had input from research support librarians, which is really helpful given their knowledge of the issues that ­academics and PhD students face. We have had feedback from colleagues who’ve played the game in the USA, ­Australia and parts of Europe. Last August, we were able to show off a prototype version of the game at the World Library and ­Information Congress (IFLA) in ­Wrocław, Poland. We also recently played the game with colleagues at the University Library at Cambridge and the British Library.

It has been really important to play-test the game with academics and researchers who are not experts in copyright, as they are the main audience. We would recommend anyone looking to create a game to spend some time playing games too, as we considered elements of existing games such as Monopoly, Guess Who and Risk along the way.

What next?

We’ve been invited to present at several upcoming conferences, including the Discover Academic Research Training and Support (Darts6) conference in May, the Eblida Conference in Strasbourg in May, the German Library Congress in Berlin in June and the ReConEvent in Edinburgh in June. Several Australian universities supported also by Creative Commons New Zealand are looking to adapt the game for their use as part of open access training, and a group of German librarians have asked to translate the game.

We showcased the game at our one-day copyright education conference, Icepops (International Copyright Education with Playful Opportunities for Practitioners and Scholars), held on 3 April at the University of Liverpool and also ran a master class at Lilac 2018.

References and links

1 The Game of Life

2 Morrison, C & Secker, J. “Copyright Literacy in the UK: a survey of librarians and other culturalheritage sector professionals.” Library and -Information Research, vol 39, 121, 2015.

3 Copyright the card game

4 Lagadothon at Lilac 2017.

Contributor: Chris Morrison (@cbowiemorrison and Jane Secker (@jsecker)

Published: 3 May 2018

More from Information Professional


In depth



This reporting is funded by CILIP members. Find out more about the

Benefits of CILIP membership

Sign Up for our non member newsletter

Contact us