Risky business: make sure your MOOCs aren’t exposing you to legal challenge

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are still pretty new but more and more universities, platform providers and publishers are beginning to create MOOCs to raise their profile and showcase high-quality materials. But there is a risk that reputations can take a serious hit if materials and data are being used incorrectly, or without permission. The time to make sure your institution is squeaky clean is NOW, says David Kernohan, Jisc programme manager, e-learning.

The ABC (and also D and E) of legal issues concerning MOOCs

A

Authorship

No matter how wonderful the video clip or image you have found, it is essential to correctly identify (and cite) the author. Knowing who made an artefact is one of the first stages in understanding whether you are permitted to use it.

CC

For work that does not include a visible licence that allows for reuse you will have to contact the author (or, more properly, the “rights holder”) for permission. This can be a lengthy and occasionally expensive process. Often it is not possible to trace the author or the author does not respond – in such cases you must make a judgement about the amount of risk you wish to take in using the item. The OER IPR support project has developed a risk management tool that may help.

Where a visible licence that allows for reuse is present (for example a Creative Commons licence), you will need to provide a citation. Xpert (a tool developed by Nottingham University) has a function that allows you to display and embed citation and licence information on an image.

B

Background intellectual property rights (IPR)

Because many MOOCs use a lot of video (often for less than sound pedagogic reasons), it is important to consider the range of rights that exist or are created in video. This also applies to any music and images used within video – which are called “background IPR”.

Foreground rights relate to the act that is captured – this could be a lecture or a dramatisation for example. The person or the people who created the act – ie the author/s of the work – hold the foreground rights. Often an individual’s employer may claim these rights via a contract of employment, or a specific agreement.

In contrast, background rights – for example in an image, video example or soundtrack – belong to the person or company who created the IPR originally and these rights should be cleared before use. It is not always possible or practicable to do this and this this useful tool from the OER IPR support project offers a risk calculation to aid your decision.

“You’ll also want to consider the conditions you attach to the materials you create – asking yourself how you expect learners to make use of the course assets and whether you will be happy for other educators to make use of them at the end of the course.”
David Kernohan, Jisc programme manager, e-learning
 
C

Conditions

If you are lucky, content that you wish to use in your MOOC will have a Creative Commons licence. These are a particularly clear form of licence that allows for reuse with certain conditions. However, some works are released with less clear terms of use.

Salford

You’ll also want to consider the conditions you attach to the materials you create – asking yourself how you expect learners to make use of the course assets, and whether you will be happy for other educators to make use of them at the end of the course. Your choice of licence will be – in part – shaped by the licence that applies to the materials being reused.

If you come up against something within a licence that you don’t understand or you just want to be certain you are doing the right thing, our Jisc Legal team will be happy to support you.

“It is a very risky business to assume materials are available for reuse if the licence doesn’t give clear, explicit permission.”
David Kernohan, Jisc programme manager, e-learning
 
D

Diligence

It is a very risky business to assume materials are available for reuse if the licence doesn’t give clear, explicit permission and/or authorship is not known. If you are intent on reusing something, it is very important that you diligently attempt to identify the author and seek permission. This is a long and sometimes costly process but you are taking a much lower legal risk if you do it properly.

Generally it is easier (and cheaper) to find alternative materials that have a clear authorship and a Creative Commons licence. Wikimedia Commons is one great source of openly licensed media (including a number of diagrams and scientific illustrations) that you can reuse with impunity and the Jorum repository is also a good source of Creative Commons licensed educational material.

MOO
E

Ethics

Moving away from content for a moment, one of the central cited benefits of running a MOOC is the ability to make use of learner data to improve tuition. From an optimum length for videos, to areas that are not clearly understood on first viewing, the data traces from thousands (hopefully!) of learners can offer valuable clues towards future enhancement.

However, learner data is subject to a number of regulations and requirements, especially if you wish to publish results or display the work of learners.

We’ve put together a very brief and readable overview as well as more detailed legal guidance.

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More info…

Follow David Kernohan on Twitter – @dkernohan

 

 

 

 

 
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You might like…

If you liked this article you might also find these of interest:

Our quick guide to intellectual property rights in a digital world

 

David’s blog post The year MOOCs got real

 

An article in Inform issue 36 on Making sense of MOOCs

 

David’s UKSG article on MOOCs

This paper from EDUCAUSE

 

 

 
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