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Copyright and Intellectual Property

MOOCs and Coursera

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) such as those found through Coursera present a unique problem for educators and copyright holders. There is also some confusion as to whether the guidelines of Fair Use or the TEACH Act apply best to MOOC content.

Fair Use applies best for several reasons. One of the most important reasons is the difficulty of controlling who has access to content provided in a MOOC. For example, a student can sign up for a MOOC without actually being enrolled at the sponsoring educational institution, as intended by the TEACH Act. And as the meaning of "MOOC" implies, hundreds—even thousands—of students can participate in a course that is not being actively mediated by an instructor. Another issue is that although a MOOC might be sponsored by a nonprofit educational institution, it is hosted on commercial platforms such as Coursera and edX. Additionally, the TEACH Act doesn't cover any reproduction of published materials, as may be used in some MOOCs.

On July 1, 2018, we acquired an institution-wide license with the Copyright Clearance Center. In regard to MOOCs, this license only covers materials that are accessed by students at institutions that also have this same institution-wide license. The CCC website has a helpful and easy-to-understand Q&A about the challenges of using published content in MOOCs. You can download the full transcript of this Q&A.

In general, if a MOOC can be accessed by students not enrolled in the sponsoring institution, the best practice is to secure permission when incorporating significant portions of work created by others. If you are a faculty member planning a MOOC, please contact us.