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Copyright and e-learning


Copyright applies to all recorded works, which includes information delivered electronically via websites. Regrettably, the exemptions built into UK legislation that allow limited classroom use have not kept pace with developments in technology and its use in education. Restrictions apply to all material made available online, either publically via the Web, as part of a lecture recorded at UCL (see Guidelines for recording lectures (Lecturecast)), or within Moodle (for more information see "Legislation and background information"). What this means in practice is that apparently straight forward actions – such as putting a Powerpoint presentation used in a lecture or seminar that contains diagrams and images from third party sources into Moodle or elsewhere online – actually raise copyright issues. In this example permission would have to be in place to use the diagrams and images.

It is therefore important to consider what material will be used when putting together an online course from the very outset. As a course designer you are responsible for ensuring that you have permission for the use of any and all third party material within your online module. Gaining permission to use material can take time, so early planning is essential. See our checklist to help establish whether you need to request permission.

That said it, it is possible to find a wealth of resources that can be used and repurposed for educational use, and also plenty of places to look for advice when putting together resources for online teaching. Below are a range of sources or materials and some of the considerations that need to be taken before reusing materials from them. This is not an exhaustive list by any means so please contact us if you have specific queries:

What materials could you include?

Your own work

If your online course is to consist only of work created by you (lecture notes, reading list, etc.) there is no need for further action with regard to checking copyright. There are some grey areas, the most notable being SLIDES from your own lectures. If the slides contain only material for which you hold the copyright (text written by you, images you have created, e.g. diagrams, photos, etc.) they can simply be added to your online course. If they do contain any third party material (the most common culprit being images) you will need to obtain copyright permission to use materials which belong to other individuals or organisations.
Practical help: See Obtaining Permission for more information on how to obtain copyright permission and also the section on images (below) for advice on where to find 'free' images.

UCL Library Services' Electronic Library

UCL Library Services provide access to a huge collection of electronic resources, in particular electronic journals and increasingly ebooks. These resources are available to all registered UCL staff and students, and can be incorporated into online courses. However, it is important to note that it is not permissible to download files from journal providers and store them locally (including in Moodle). Instead stable links should be made. Most e-journals will provide instructions on how to do this, or see below.
Practical help: Library Services will provide advice on how best to link to e-resources. The UCL online reading list system which will automatically link to any available full text is by far the best way to do this. The system integrates with Moodle and our access systems. Plus it is maintained entirely by you, so changes can be made at any time. For more information see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/onlinelists.shtml#howadd

UCL materials

UCL is increasingly involved in projects to create digital content, ranging from images of artefacts from Museums and Collections to podcasts delivered via iTunesU. As UCL owns copyright of these materials they can be re-used within teaching materials without permission. Some examples include:

You may want to include teaching materials created by colleagues at UCL. This is acceptable under the Staff IPR policy (see point 7), but it is still polite to ask them whether they are happy for your to reuse the work, and be sure to acknowledge them as the creators of the work.

Government and international organisations

The majority of publicly funded bodies allow the re-use of their published materials for educational purposes. It is usually not permitted to download and store PDF versions of these material without permission, instead organisations suggest that links be incorporated into the online learning environment. Please consult an organisation's "copyright" or "acceptable use" policy, which will be available on their website for further information. See also section on "Material from websites" (below) for good practice guidelines.

Material protected by UK Crown Copyright or Parliamentary Copyright can be copied for educational use under licence. More information about this is available.
Practical help: if you are unsure of an organisations policy, the TLSS will be able to provide advice. Please contact them, providing full details of material you wish to link to.

Material from websites

The ability to link to material on websites is one of the fundamental aspects of the web. While there are no legal considerations when linking to other sites, it is worth bearing in mind the following good practice guidelines:

  1. When linking to a resource available on the web, try to avoid "deep-linking" (linking directly to the material). This by-passes the organisation's homepage, which often provides a context for the material. In addition, deep links tend to be less stable - material is often moved or taken down. If you do want to "deep-link" then consider including a reference to the organisations home page also.
  2. Ensure that links to external sites open in a new browser window. This makes it clear that the student is leaving your course environment to visit another site. This reminds the student that they need to use their critical skills as you (as course tutor) are no longer responsible for the material they are viewing. Taking a copy (by downloading or simply "copying and pasting") to store locally should only be done where it is explicitly stated that this is permissible.
  3. Be cautious when linking to websites that contain materials that are clearly not being re-used legally. For instance, a website that presents the entire contents of a recently published book, but is not owned by the author or publisher nor has any mention of permission being granted by either party should ring some alarm bells.

Images or text from websites

It is very easy to find and download useful images/text from the Web. However, all material on the Web is protected by Copyright law. Before copying anything from a website check whether permission is needed. In most cases it will. Terms of use and contact information are usually found in pages entitled "About this site" or similar.
Practical help: A growing number of resources exist that provide access to images licensed for educational use. For example, try using the Creative Commons search to find images in Flickr.com.

Find out more about using images at the LTSS site.

Or, watch the JISC Digital Media tutorial on finding "free" images.

Video or sound clips

It is possible to incorporate audio-visual clips into online course environments. However, copyright permission must be obtained prior to material being made available. If the film/sound recording has been made within UCL or by you there should be no copyright issues, but clearing rights to use commercially created audio-visual can be extremely costly. Please bear in mind data protection issues if you are incorporating any recordings you have made that involve other people. Separate advice has been drafted for those involved in recording lectures. Clips from Youtube can be incorporated into a Moodle course using their “tool”

Extracts from printed sources

The UK Copyright Licensing Agency's Licence for HE permits us to digitise extracts from most published materials. These extracts can be digitised for a specific course of study. However certain limits apply to how much can be copied.
Practical help: For further information on this service please refer to the following webpage: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/readings.shtml

Your students' contributions to Moodle, etc.

Bear in mind that students at UCL own copyright to all of the work that they produce during their course of study, this includes materials that they may contribute to an online learning environment (e.g. entries on a wiki). While few will object to you making this available to later cohorts of students it is worth making it clear to your students that this is your intention.

Finding "free-to-use" materials on the Web

More and more quality resources are being made available for re-use in education. Much material is made available under Creative Commons licensing and the CC site offers links through to various search services that provide access to materials, including Google, Flickr and Wikimedia Commons: http://search.creativecommons.org/

Publically funded bodies, such as JISC, are also developing repositories of resources for educational re-use. These include:

  • Jorum, free learning and teaching resources created and contributed by UK FE and HE practitioners
  • Open Education Resources, for more information on UK projects
  • Merlot, the US equivalent of JORUM
Related tools and resources

Visit Further help and advice for a list of best practice top tips, links to other resources and information about copyright, and our FAQ section.

Last modified 04 July 2011

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