Copyright in the information age?

Lights by Jason Rojas, Flickr CC Attribution 2.0

“Lights,” by Jason Rojas, Flickr CC Attribution 2.0

Copyright Infringement Is a Big & Potentially Costly Deal

Do you know how to handle it in the digital information age?

We’ve all searched images on Google and used them however and wherever we wanted to – maybe even putting them in Paint to doctor them first. Most of us have looked things up on the Internet and not thought twice about giving credit. Some of us may have even made copies of movies, music, books, magazines, newspapers, lessons, etc. All of these things are copyright infringement and could potentially carry some very costly. According to Purdue University’s Copyright Office’s Copyright Infringement page, penalties can include anywhere from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed, attorney and court fees, impounding of work and jail time. Additionally you can lose your job (and get a permanent black Mark on your record, which could very well make it difficult to find another job) or as a student, you could be expelled (with a similar black mark).

The issue is compounded by the fact that anything we want is available at  our fingertips through the web. Instructors face issues of putting content in online classrooms and confusion around sharing content in an online venue. Students face issues of being able to share information so easily on the internet, but how to properly give credit seems confusing and at times, hardly seems worth the confusion. What about pictures? What about music? What about video?

What do we do?

Luckily, we have options.

1. Creative Commons – According to Wikipedia,

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Mountain View, California, United States, devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.[1] The organization has released several copyrightlicenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. An easy-to-understand one-page explanation of rights, with associated visual symbols, explains the specifics of each Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright, but are based upon it. They replace individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, which are necessary under an “all rights reserved” copyright management, with a “some rights reserved” management employing standardized licenses for re-use cases where no commercial compensation is sought by the copyright owner. The result is an agile, low-overhead and low-cost copyright-management regime, profiting both copyright owners and licensees. Wikipedia uses one of these licenses.”[2]

So, anything that has a creative commons license has the ability to be used, to be shared, publicly, without shame, fees or hard time.  Yay!

What does that mean for you? Simply put, rather than just going to Google (or Bing) to search for what you need, bookmark this address and go there to search. You’ll notice some familiar names, like Flickr and YouTube. Follow the directions of the licenses.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses

2. Open Education Resources (OER)

There are a couple of different perspectives to think about with OER:

First, the student –

The average American student spends between $700 and $1,000 per year on textbooks, according to a US Department of Education study. And that’s after students – or, more likely, their parents – have dished up for tuition, room and board, meal plans, lab fees, extracurricular fees, and a laundry list of other expenses.

Then, at the end of the quarter, when the students try to sell back their book, often times they can’t because the school is using a differnt textbook. Or, they were told to buy a textbook and then the class never used it at all.

Wouldn’t it be great if students could cut down those costs and have instant access to the materials they need instead of waiting for their financial aid check to clear before they can afford their textbooks (2 or 3 weeks into a quarter!)?

Then, the teacher –

 Have you ever found something from the internet that could be a perfect resource (image, video, quiz, etc.) for your course, and you spent hours trying to figure out the copyright issues with that resource? You couldn’t find any Terms of Use, and there was no author information, so you didn’t know who to contact to get the permission?

Wouldn’t it have been nice if that resource somehow said “I’m free to use, no strings attached, you don’t need to ask for my permission because it is already granted”?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are answer to that need.

There are millions of educational resources out there that are available for others to freely use. There are all kinds: full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and many other tools, materials and techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Here is how OER is defined in more specific and fancy terms:

Open educational resources (OER) are educational materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others (definition by Hewlett Foundation).

Let me put it another way. OER are:

  • Format: materials in any medium, digital or otherwise
  • Conditions: that either
    • resides in the public domain or
    • has been released under an open license,
  • Nature: which permits its free use and re-purposing by others.

To see how others define OER, please visit What is OER by Creative Commons.

Written by Boyoung Chae,  program admin for Open Ed at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges

Be on the lookout for our OER series coming soon to the blog with regular ideas and information about how to find OER and how to implement in your classes.


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