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Creating open educational resources
Creating open educational resources

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4 Copyright and OER

I assume that you are reading this course because you would like to create a course similar to the materials that you can find on the OpenLearn website. You therefore have a teaching purpose and are particularly interested in the use of online tuition. Hopefully you are also keen to share your teaching materials with others. But why bother creating a new OER? Surely there is so much material already available for free on the web anyway!

I would answer this in a number of ways. First: quality. You want to know that the materials that you are using yourself, or obtaining for use for others, are of high integrity; accurate and well constructed.

Second: copyright. While the copyright rules for many countries may be similar, any advice or comments given here is derived from and in the context of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (‘the Act’). 

You may be exposing yourself or your institution to legal challenge if you use third party copyright material without permission. If you use YouTube for audio or video elements, or Flickr to store, say, a collage of pictures in a Sgt. Pepper-style line-up, they will remove the material from their websites if they receive a complaint. 

The use of small extracts or amounts of third party copyright material in your OER is generally acceptable without attracting complaints from copyright holders. In the UK this is usually referred to as ‘insubstantial’. Other countries, such as the USA, may use the term ‘fair use’ and provide a wider use provision within their territories. Those that are not familiar with copyright, or lack experience in working with it, may find it difficult to judge how little to use without permission. Using insubstantial parts of works needs to be decided with both a quantitative and qualitative gauge. The following may help:

  • Use no more than around 400 words from a large book (quantitative).
  • Do not take the substance of any work. For example, if you’re taking quotes from a whodunit novel, do not take the part that reveals the culprit – even if only a few words (qualitative).
  • Poetry is considered very qualitative, so use caution and do not take more than two lines without permission without seeking advice from someone with copyright knowledge and experience in this area.
  • Music is also considered qualitative, so use caution, particularly with popular or well-known pieces – even if you’re only using a couple of  notes. Seek advice if unsure.
  • Footage (film/moving images) is considered qualitative – so again, use caution. Footage is charged within the industry on a per second basis (frequently with 30-second and one-minute minimums being imposed for charging), so three or four seconds could be seen as a maximum insubstantial part.

Those that are more experienced in dealing with permissions and copyright may be able to apply some flexibility to the guidelines above, depending on each individual piece of content. There are other ‘fair dealing’ provisions in the Act (Sections 29–30) that permits use (as a defence) of copyright works, or parts, without seeking permission. 

Activity 7

The following training session video explains the basics of copyright and explores some issues surrounding copyright and Creative Commons licences.

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Training video
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The training video is designed to raise your awareness of copyright and other issues that may impact on your own content, or the content you may be accessing from other sites or areas for use in your OER. It may not provide all the answers you look for, but hopefully it may prompt questions and you may be alerted to raise and seek solutions before you publish your OER. There are also a few exercises in the video that are republished here, with comments that you may find useful.

If you place copyright in your OER plan and tackle all the associated considerations required for your particular content, you will not only manage the risk to your institution at an acceptable level but feel more confident about copyright. You will also feel you have done a good job and be able to move onto your next project without that feeling of unease because copyright had not been tackled as part of the overall project plan.

The video discusses:

  • Creation of copyright work: How easy it is to create an original copyright work capable of copyright protection under CDPA 1988. (The ‘birthday card’.)
  • Protection of copyright work: No formalities (registration procedures) are required in order to get copyright works protected under CDPA 1988. Protection is given worldwide under conventions such as Berne and UCC (Universal Copyright Convention).
  • Identification and clearing of third party rights, using content in a birthday card as an example.
  • Copyright ownership: Exploring the issues of copyright ownership in the absence of a contract. It also looks at copyright ownership considerations involving collaborations.
  • Planning, risk and ethics: The discussion in the video emphasises the importance of timely planning to minimise risk to your institution and consider any ethical issues that may arise, for example involving children or other vulnerable groups.  Copyright does not operate in isolation. The video raises some ethics awareness for your institution such as it is not always about having the right to do – but doing the right thing!
  • Licensing Creative Commons:  The characteristics of Creative Commons [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] licensing are explained and discussed with some exercises to further illustrate how Creative Commons licences work and to clear up any misunderstanding that may prevail about them. (For example, that Creative Commons is an organisation that has created and made available a suite of CC non-exclusive licences for the licensing of copyright works without payment to the general public. Creative Commons does not give permissions on behalf of rights owners – it provides the licences for rights owners to use.)