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Library Guide on Copyright Awareness for MOOCs

by NUS Libraries and NUS Office of Legal Affairs

Video on Copyright Guidelines by CIT, NUS Libraries and OLA

Watch a video on copyright guidelines here. Produced collaboratively by NUS Libraries, OLA and CIT. 

Introduction to MOOCs

Massive Open Online Course ("MOOC") instructors (i.e. NUS edX instructorsDO NOT have the same copyright protections as instructors teaching internal NUS courses for NUS Staff and Students. MOOC instructors must take extra precaution when creating syllabus materials.

The aim of this section is to educate MOOC instructors about copyright and open education resources to use in course content. If your course is one taught in a traditional ‘closed’ fashion, where copies of readings made for students may have been made under a license or copyright exception, this section may be relevant to you. 

MOOCs have a wider audience. Potentially anyone with an internet connection can register and gain to MOOC content. MOOCs therefore distribute course materials at a scale unprecedented for face-to-face courses. Due to their open nature, the risk of mass infringement is greater:-

  • Library licensed e-books and e-journals are not to be freely used in MOOCs as license fees are calculated based on NUS staff and student use only
  • Exceptions in the Copyright Act for educational institutions do not apply to MOOCs

As it is difficult to apply the fair dealing exception in the MOOC context, the recommended approach is to either:-

  • provide a link to copyrighted material
  • find public domain/creative commons licensed alternatives
  • seek permission from the rights holders, or
  • make your own original content

Recommended workflow below:-

See also: Copyright Clearance for MOOCs at NTU here.

Safest Way to Avoid Infringement - Create Your Own Materials!

It should be emphasized that the absolute safest way to avoid infringement is to use material that is of the MOOC’s own creation (created by the library, the instructor, or the institution launching the MOOC), that is in the public domain, or that is available under general license terms that permit this activity, such as certain Creative Commons licenses. The second safest way is to seek permission.” [emphasis added] Courtney KK. MOOCs and Libraries in the 21st Century. 1st ed. Baltimore: Rowman & Littlefield, Ltd; 2015, page 21.

Permitted Uses of Copyrighted Materials

Making your own Content. It is best to create your own original content. Remember that you may need permission from the publisher to use even your own manuscript in your MOOC. Check the author-publisher agreement you signed to determine if the publisher owns the copyright to your work.

Permissions requests must be made for each specific use - if you have permission to use an article in your internal NUS course, this does not mean you have permission to use it in the MOOC. Permission must be sought for the specific use in MOOC. (source: NUS Office of Legal Affairs, Copyright Guidelines for Massive Open Online Courses)

Hyperlinking in MOOCs

Not all hyperlinking activity is recommended: 

  • Simple Link. This is acceptable by listing the website address.
  • Embedded Link / Frame Linking. These involve using a hyperlink to display content from another site example hereThese should not be used unless explicitly allowed by the terms of the website as they may give the impression that the material is hosted directly on the MOOC course site
  • Links to Infringing Works. Not allowed

Drawbacks to Hyperlinking in MOOCs

Precautions to take with external websites:

  • Geo-Blocking. YouTube videos may not be available to students in certain countries. Videos on websites of national broadcasting corporations may be blocked globally. 
  • Increased Traffic. Website servers may not be able to handle the increased traffic as a result of multiple participants simultaneously accessing the site. Google documents servers may crash if too many students visit a document at once. 

Smith, K.L., & Fowler, L (2013). Drawing the Blueprint as we build: Setting up a Library-based Copyright & Permissions service for MOOCs.

For more information, please refer to our page on Creative Commons and Open Resources

OERs. Fortunately, many 3rd party copyright resources can be accessed directly by students, and by members of the public, without any unauthorized copying taking place and therefore without infringing copyright. You may find such materials in Open Educational Resources (OERs).

  • OERs are characterized as open access materials that are available to the public, with no restriction on accessibility and no payment of royalties for educational use
  • Sources of OERs may be found at NUS Libraries’ OER Libguide
  • Categories of OERs include resources in the public domain or resources released under a license that permits their free use and re-purposing

Hyperlinking OERs. It is also safer to hyperlink OERs than upload materials as content uploaded may be potentially infringing. Just because OER may be downloaded for free does not mean that they may be uploaded. It is always good practice to check the terms and conditions of use of the website concerned, to see if this is allowed.

Obtaining Permission. If you are unable to find substitute materials in OER sites, you may seek to get permission, but it is not always possible to contact rights holders or pay the fees requested. It can also take a considerable time to seek permission.

For steps to seeking permission and sample permission refer to the page in this guide on seeking copyright permission

Attribution. Re-use of copyrighted materials must be accompanied by attribution. Please refer to the tab on attribution.