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Copyright in a Digital World

blendedlearning's picture

Blended and computer-based learning raises new questions, for many students and faculty, about intellectual property and data usage. Most institutions have their own, explicit copyright policies which spell out exactly what the institution considers to be acceptable and unacceptable use of material. For specific questions about what's allowed at your institution, consult that policy first. LINKwithlove also provides resources and facilitates discussion about creating and promoting best practices for dealing with intellectual property in digital platforms. This post will address the basic question: Does copyright apply to computer-based educational materials like tutorials, quizzes, and animations in my courses?

Generally speaking, current copyright law assumes that the author/creator of a work possesses an exclusive legal property right in that work from the moment of its creation, and the work cannot be bought, sold or traded without that author/creator's consent. Laws makes no distinction between materials created and/or published digitally and those created and/or published on paper. Computer software or code is among the forms of expression protected under US copyright law. However, you have a few options for incorporating computer-based materials into a course:

1) Creative Commons licensed material - There are a variety of open educational resources, or OERs (many of which are archived around this page!) available, including some material licensed to be freely used for educational purposes. Creative commons licenses allow authors/creators to distribute their work freely, but specify limits to its use (i.e. no commercial use, use only with attribution, or use only without alteration). Creative Commons has a search function which allows users to access a variety of search engines which may (though CC does not guarantee their results) be under creative commons licenses.

2) Fair use exceptions - Teachers at educational institutions are allowed to display copyrighted works as a part of classroom teaching. Individuals are allowed to make copies of copyrighted textual material provided that

  • only individual articles or small portions of the larger work are copied
  • the copies become the property of the patron
  • the copies are used only for private study, scholarship, or research
  • material is not copied for commercial purposes or advantage
  • the library displays prominently a notice warning of copyright restrictions in accord with the requirements published by the U.S. Copyright Office

Libraries may make copies of entire works (or substantial pieces of a large work) if the work cannot be obtained after a reasonable search and at a reasonable price. It is under this exemption and the fair use doctrine that libraries may copy materials and place them on course reserve.