Friday, 19 April 2013

Feeling MOOC-y? Think about your content

Plenty has been written about MOOCs already, but most of what I've read has related to the wider debate about them (are they a good thing or a bad thing? etc). I wanted to write a quick post thinking about the copyright and licensing issues around the creation of MOOCs with particular focus on the UK.

The key word in the acronym 'MOOC' is 'open'. Open in theory means that the course is freely available to all worldwide via the Internet. This already means that universities need to think beyond what is done in the lecture theatre / seminar room space, and not just from a technological point of view. Within the UK, UK copyright laws take effect, but what if a student is doing the MOOC from their home in India? When developing content for a MOOC, educators must ensure that the resources they create are their own and that any third party content (such as images retrieved from the Internet, video clips, journal articles, and so on) is appropriately licensed for such a wide use online.

However - it's not always easy or possible to get copyright permission to use third party material for a public online course. This is where the difference between face-to-face teaching and delivery of teaching online really shows itself in copyright law. Not only is the whole approach to teaching different, but the approach to using resources must be different too. What may be permissible in a classroom environment (such as showing clips from a film for instructional purposes) is not permissible in the online environment. Educators must therefore think hard about what they want to use, whether they really need to use it and whether they could seek alternatives should they not be allowed to use it.

Educators should treat their course materials for MOOCs in the same way as they would treat the writing of a journal article; permissions to use third party content must be acquired before the publisher will publish the work. Universities and other institutions embarking on the MOOCs route must ensure that their compliance / legal departments are involved in the process so as not to run the risk of having an entire course taken offline because of copyright infringement in one small element of it.

So where can educators go for help? Well, there are loads of resources out there which can be freely used without the need to seek permission. Much of the content in Wikimedia is in the public domain, which means that copyright has expired and it can be freely used (always check to see as it will be explicitly stated). Or find content which has been licensed with Creative Commons licences; the widest licence is CC-BY, and most CC licensed works can be used in open content. Linking to content held elsewhere is the next best thing, although you need to make sure that you are not linking to items held behind a paywall or behind one of your own institutional subscriptions. Open access works and Open Educational Resources can be found across the Internet and may be incorporated into a MOOC. And finally librarians are a valuable source of information, particularly those who deal with subscription-based resources as they usually have good negotiation skills.

Technology is a wonderful thing, and education is becoming more and more innovative. But when it's public-facing and accessible to the world, the institution must appreciate that there are risks involved with using content that is not its own and therefore must take appropriate steps to ensure that content is truly 'open'.

Some excellent further resources:

Embracing OER and MOOCs to transform education
It's 166 slides long but it's well worth flicking through as there are some great resources highlighted as places to find open content:

MOOCs and Libraries: Copyright, Licensing, Open Access
It's 59:39 minutes long so watch it over your lunch break or in stages! But a fantastic panel discussion about how some of the US universities have approached MOOCs, how they have persuaded faculty to get on board with the concept and helpful tips and tricks that they've implemented. Some excellent questions asked at the end too, particularly about contractual limitations (e.g. when you have an image from a museum that you are not permitted to make available online):

MOOC Yourself: set up your own MOOC
Sadly this is restricted to Kindle only (something I don't have) but it looks like a great resource and is an interesting way of monetising a CC-licensed product. It's very cheap as well so might be a worthwhile investement!


  1. Thanks for linking to the MOOCs and Libraries panel - happy to see it is worth the 59 mins!

  2. Thanks - this is a lovely post and very helpful.

  3. That's a great post copyrightgirl - thank you. It's coming at a useful point in the course too because this week we're thinking about 'readiness' for online learning and learner needs etc. So that is making me wonder how much we need to encourage our online learners to engage with copyright protocols. With the emphasis on collaborative learning in online environments and with user-generated content, to what extent can we expect students to ensure that the content that they are sharing, is truly open?

  4. I know you said that "educators must ensure that the resources they create are their own"
    I would also say that you should make sure that resources they reuse are their own. One of the biggest problems is where staff have something (a powerpoint?) they created years back, in their minds its "theirs" but in reality there are probably a few pictures in them that are not appropriately sourced.
    Similarly recordings of lectures where copyrighted materials are showing on the projected display might cause you problems

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