Copyright, Intellectual Property and OERs

The terms intellectual property and copyright are sometimes used interchangeably, however, they are two different things. Intellectual property law is a law that was created to protect intangible but valuable things. According to the Law Dictionary, intellectual property laws are "intangible rights protecting the products of human intelligence and creation, such as copyrightable works, patented inventions, trademarks and trade secrets". These laws protect the works of musicians, artists, inventors and authors. Copyright is one of the branches of Intellectual Property that protects expressions of ideas like books, movies and music. Copyright has been an issue ever since man began writing books for the public. Ever since then, copyright has been applied to the rest of the inventions including online property. In this case we refer to copyright as intellectual property. When it comes to e-learning systems, like the rest of the activities online, more complex issues arise due to the ubiquitous nature of the Internet. Copyright is "the legal mechanism used internationally to provide owners of created works with some control of how their works are used" (Marshall, 2008).

Perhaps, the legal issues involved in an e-learning system have not been thoroughly examined yet. Xalabarder mentions some of the legal issues involved in e-learning systems, these being:

  • Image rights- when recording a lecturer giving a lecture and then posting it on e-learning platform
  • User's privacy- when personal data is used t register the students or when tracking their uses of the platform
  • Competition law- an anti-trust law applied to technological issues such as interoperability
  • Access to government information- for statistical purposes
  • ISP liability- to what extent is the platform exempt from liability

Some of the challenges involved in an e-learning platform

Challenge: Ownership of works created by teachers

Teachers and lecturers create their own resources which they put online for students to access. When students access these resources they can download them or save them on their computer. In this way teachers will be losing control on how their works are used and thus they lose their copyright. Students can re-distribute these resources to other students who may not be in the same class.

Challenge: Ownership of works created by students

Another issue involves the work that the students post on the e-learning platform. This could be in the form of contributions like comments or assignments that they post for grading. The assignments that they create are their own original work and thus should have a copyright.

Challenge: Use of pre-existing works as part of instruction

In order to create teaching resources, teachers need to make use of pre-existing resources found online. It would be impossible for them to create all of the digital content by themselves. This will result in infringement of copyright. To avoid the latter they can rely on a statutory exception to copyright or else obtain a licence from the copyright owner that grants them permission to use his work. Having said that there is still a long way to go and these solutions are not enough to cater for online learning (Xalabarder, 2011).

A possible solution to all of these challenges includes licensing materials published whether it be by teachers or students, using open licensing like the Creative Commons of GNU Public Licence (Marshall, 2008). The system of Open Educational Resources (OER) is defined as being "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property licence that permits their free use or re-purposing by others" (Atkins, 2007) OER enables content to be duplicated, edited and manipulated to suit educational purposes like in the case of e-learning. The most commonly used form of open licence is the Creative Commons. The latter is a non-profit organisation whose aims are to promote creativity by making "user generated" content "in the commons", or better yet available for all. This doesn't mean that they provide an alternative to copyright. On the other hand they enable people to change copyright terms from all rights reserved to some rights reserved. For more information:


For further info:

What role do OER play in the future of e-learning?
OERs play a major role in the future of e-learning. In fact I believe that it is the pillar of e-learning systems. OERs make it possible to allow duplication, editing and re-use of online material. This implies that in an e-learning system it is possible to edit sections of video, crop an image and edit text. In this way learning can happen anywhere and students need not only consult one source of information given by the teacher but can explore otherwise, like what happens in the Khan Academy.

Apart from being extremely beneficial OERs also pose some difficulties. The first problem is where to cut the line. Which resources should be free for all and which shouldn't? Open licensing plays major role here where it distinguished between free resources and resources we are free to do what we choose with. Therefore in the context of OERs, licensing is a must.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a very interesting non-profit organisation that shares free online resources with users, who can be anyone ranging from students, teachers and parents. It provides an e-learning environment where student can learn online and their progress is monitored on the platform itself. The student as well as teachers and parents can access a report to track the student's performance. Khan Academy provides various resources, like lessons, videos and activities that anyone around the world can access for free. It also gives users different badges for achievements which I think is a good motivator. Moreover, it helps you reach your goals by tracking down your performance and thus indicating where you should improve. The user can also access statistics to see his whereabouts whilst using the environment.


Technology is rapidly advancing, but unfortunately the law, and specifically copyright law isn't. Laws take time to change and thus this makes intellectual property law a serious issue when it comes to using newly developed technologies. Unfortunately, as soon as people organise and start to exchange material freely, corporations and influential people who are in favour of the copyright law, try to stop them. At this point, one can start demanding on what exactly is and should be considered as public domain and what isn't and shouldn't?

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a global non-profit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools. (Creative Commons, 2016) In 2001, Lawrence Lessig founded this organization and surely changed the world’s understanding of intellectual property.

Creative Commons has copyright licenses which allow everybody to give copyright permissions to their creative work. These licenses are not an alternative to copyright but they let you modify the copyright terms to best suits individual needs. Creative commons offers 6 categories of licenses which are:

1. Attribution: 1.png
This type of license allows others distribute, remix and build upon work, even for commercial use, as long as they credit the creator of the original work.

2. Attribution-NoDerivs:2.png
This type of license allows for redistribution, both for commercial and non-commercial use, as long as the work is passed along unchanged and crediting the original creator.

3. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike:3.png
This type of license allows others to distribute, remix and build upon workfor non-commercial purposes, as long as they credit the original creator and license the new creations under the same license as the original.

4. Attribution-ShareAlike: 4.png
This type of license allows others to distribute, remix and build upon work, for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, as long as they credit the original creator and license the new creations under the same license as the original.

5. Attribution-NonCommercial:5.png
This type of license allows others to distribute, remix and build upon work, for non-commercial purposes, crediting the original creator. Derivative works do not have to be licensed under the same terms.
6. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: 6.png
This type of license only allows for others to download work and share it as long as you credit the original creator. One cannot change the work in any way or worse than this, use it for commercial purposes.

Creative Commons licenses are available in three different formats. The first format is the lawyer readable which consists of the full legal terms that are mostly understood by legal experts. The second format is the human readable which simplifies the technical terms of the license with relevant icons to make it more user-friendly. Lastly, the third format is the machine readable which is used to help search engines and other applications to identify licensed work.
A copyright environment which is based on openness surely benefits all kinds of education; from traditional learning to distance learning. First of all, Creative Commons made it possible for both the teachers and the students to use and customize multimedia resources in their projects. Moreover, it also encouraged new thinking amongst them and the ability to share their own work with the rest of the world. If it was not for this organization, tools like wikis and blogs would not be possibly used for teaching.

Atkins, D. B. (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and new Opportunities. Menlo Park, CA: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Marshall, S. (2008). Copyright policy issues facing tertiary institutions engaged in e-Learning. Retrieved January 10, 2014, from Ascilite 2008 Melbourne:

Xalabarder, R. (2011). Copyright Issues in E-Learning. In R. Xalabarder, Content Management for E-Learning (pp. 87-109). Springer New York.

Creative Commons. (2016, January 4) Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from:

McLaughlin, E. (2013, July) Creative Commons. Retrieved from:

Creative Commons. About The Licenses. Retrieved from:

O’Neal,C. (2007, January 4) Creative Commons in K-12 Education: Using and Sharing Students' Work Safely. Retrieved from:

Educase. (2007, March) 7 things you should know about..Creative Commons. Retrieved from:


Open Educational ResourcesOne time or another everyone must have heard of the word “Copyright.” Copyright is when the law gives the subject full rights over his intellectual property use and supply. (What is Copyright?)

Intellectual property right is “the legal rights which result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields” which have been developed in a tangibleor visual form; and so ideas themselves, as long as they are not developed into something concrete, are not legally abiding. The need for such right was increased with the tremendous growth of the world-wide-web and the Internet, where one could easily find and access a vast range of intellectual property from all kinds of sources. (Prabhala, 2010) Such information could easily be used for learning and this is why since 2002 during a UNESCO Forum about “Using Information Technology to Increase Access to High-Quality Educational Content”, the Hewlett Foundation joined other movements who were interested in the open educational resources field to provide a better education for all. Its aim was to allow everyone to freely use good quality educative material which is presented online. This led to what is now known as the Open Educational Resources which refers to:

“Teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” (Open Educational Resources)

Open Educational Resources, including even quizzes, simulators and lesson planners, have different licensing rights from copyright. Most of them are openly licensed even thanks to the continuous efforts of the Creative Commons Institutions. Besides accessing information from OER, one can also create it by attaining information from ready existing OER, edit it, change it according the one’s needs and share the new resource (Prabhala, 2010).

One might ask why such e-learning investment has become such a need. Besides, diminishing barriers, promoting equality of resources to everyone and promoting collaborations, there are several advantages of using OER’s. For the learner, this method allows more flexibility and more personalized form of learning as he/she can adapt to his/her own needs and can decide what resources to make use of and what others to put aside. The knowledge gained from online resources might be used by the learner to supply knowledge to others in a wider context. This approach centres on the students’ needs, and can help the learner to develop a vast range of skills. Before enrolling to a particular course, Some resources allow one to first test a particular course and then decide later to enrol, or not enrol, in it. Besides this gives one the possibility to do some comparisons with other resources.

However, the stakeholders of OER’s are not just learners. The creators of such resources also gain from this system. This is because they will receive feedback on the material developed and it might also help them to build up their reputation. They will attain a higher degree of collaboration amongst the learners and are surely reaching more students. This approach also promotes digital literacy and equips the learners with a vast range of skills that gives them a better chance to work in multiple sectors (McGill, 2014). Furthermore, compared to other means of education it is relatively cheap, and it is introducing new methods of education and learning.

Its pitfalls might be that the quality of the materials given might not be low. Some OER do not allow the feedback mechanism and some information might not be updated with current trends, hence providing the learner with inappropriate data. Their flexibility might also be limited to certain faculty needs as well (EDUCAUSE, 2010). Hylen also mention that some individuals might not be aware of the copyright or other licensing’s agreements that a resource might have, and might create replicas with modifications of resources by even breaking the copyright law, leading to unforeseen legal issues (Hylen).

Because of its flexibility and advantages Open Educational Resources are surely becoming a fundamental part of the future of e-learning. It has sparked the educative level of interest and considering that we are surrounded by technology, ithas becomea truly valuable open approach to education the whole world is seeking. It is very practical and it is also helping from:
“the practical perspectives of those whose task is to tackle the problems caused by the growing and migrating masses of culturally diverse humans” (Kozinska, Kursun, Wilson, McAndrew, & Scanlon, 2010).



What is Copyright? Simply put, it is a law that provides you with rights to any item which you may have created. There are two items which need to be taken into consideration when copyrighting a creation; these are the originality and the tangibility of the work. Originality is defined as being a new piece which you have created without any influence from other already copyrighted works while tangibility means that you have been able to develop and physically create your idea as you cannot copyright an idea which is still in your head. When you copyright an item, being a photo, book or video you are the sole person who can manage the rights you have over this piece of work.

These include the right to:
  • Distribute your work
  • Publicly display your work
  • Reproduce your work in any other form
  • Derive any other works from your original item

For a person to use any copyrighted work, he or she must obtain the permission from the creator. This person would be violating the rights of the creator if they were to use this work without permission and this is something which is not legal. It is good to note that copyright protection on a new creation starts from the moment the item is created and not from when it is registered. Although registering an item is not necessary for protection, it is still recommend.

For how long is an item copyrighted? The length of copyright depends on the type of creation and also varies by countries. Some countries such as the United States have also set a minimum which is 25 years however the most common lengths of copyright include the whole life of the creator plus another 50 or 70 years after their death.

As there is a fee related to registering a new creation many individuals used to make use of what is known as “poor man’s copyright”. This was a simple way of proving that your creation was in existence on a certain date. The creator simply posted a copy of the work to themselves so that they can have proof of the ownership and creation of their work.

Most countries around the world also respect the any copyrighted work from other countries. However there may be instances where the rules vary. As such it is important to see the directions set out by each nation as to how copyright is handled.


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