Open Education Handbook/Misperceptions about OER & copyright

When you openly license an educational resource, you keep your copyright while allowing certain uses of your work through the open license, giving the world the legal rights and permissions to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute your work. Most OER creators use Creative Commons licences to openly license their OER, which are considered the global standard for openly licensing content like educational resources.

There are several common misperceptions of copyright among educational practitioners. Copyright is only one of several intellectual property rights (IPR). You do not need to study the legal intricacies but you should be aware of the basic outlines of IPR in education. Being ignorant or taking a gentlemanly approach to intellectual property rights can backfire, certainly when protected material is re-released into the commons as OER.

“Certainly I can use copyrighted material because it is for educational purposes”

There is no blanket license for educational purposes. This is a misconception that conflates US with British law (fair use / fair dealing). Normally your institution will have a license with the copyright agency setting out what you are allowed to do (in the UK: typically making as many photocopies of 5% or one chapter (whichever is greater) of any book your institution holds. This does not automatically include scans / digitisations for your VLE.

“Certainly I can use copyrighted material because it is behind closed doors (our VLE is only accessible to staff or students of my institution with a password)

You may be less likely to be caught but you are still violating IPR. Many institutions archive VLE contents and things may come back to haunt you later. There are even reports of cases where students have tried to blackmail teachers about their copyright violations. Do you really want to expose yourself?

“It was not copyrighted because it had no © sign on it”

The © sign is just a symbol that a creator may choose to use to indicate copyright protection. Just because there is no © sign does not mean that the work is not protected. For example, in the US, the creator is granted exclusive copyright to her work at the moment of creation; she does not have to register or it or attach a © to it to gain this protection. Any artefact whether or not marked with a © is protected in the UK, and elsewhere, by intellectual property rights.

“It was available freely on the web, so I can use it.”

Nope. Local and international copyright laws apply to the Internet as well.

“My institution has a licence with the copyright agency, so we can use everything”

There are differences between photocopy licenses and online / digitisation licenses. Best to check with your institution. A typical license would be: staff are allowed to make as many photocopies as necessary for teaching, of up to a chapter or 5% (whichever is greater) from any book held by the institution. This does not automatically mean that these photocopies can be scanned in and made available on the institutional VLE. Your institution will have (or not) have a separate license for digitised content, e.g. restricting digitisation to books published in a certain jurisdiction (e.g. the UK and/or US only). Annoying as this is, this means you can only legally use some teaching material offline not online.

Last but not least this is also an issue of academic credibility, with reputations of individuals and institutions at risk. Avoidance of plagiarism is a fundamental academic value that should be respected at all times.