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Live From SXSWedu: Copyright in Open Education

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A big theme at this year's SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas, is the open education movement. There are several panels on open textbooks, teachers as curators of open education content, and collaborative course material networks.

My colleague Ian Quillen wrote about this on Tuesday, from the Consortium of School Networking conference in Washington.

There are a lot of benefits to this movement, cost savings and nimble adoption chief among them. (Here is a breakdown of the costs.) Just last week, the Washington State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill promoting the use of open education resources (OER) that meet state and Common Core standards in classrooms.

But as teachers begin to use more open online coursework, they also need to learn copyright and fair-use laws. Most teachers don't know just how much they can use, said Georgia Harper, the Scholarly Communications Adviser for the University of Texas at Austin Libraries. Use of any content is subject to its individual terms of use. But if it used in a "transformative" way and the original source is clearly attributed, content can be used for projects like online textbooks and course materials. 3020135683_41c68d66f7_t.jpg

For instance, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is one of the more closely guarded pieces of media commonly used in education. But, as Harper told me after her presentation, educators can use a clip of the entire speech in a lesson on rhetoric or the "top 100" speeches. And no matter what the terms of use, it's always legal to link to education materials.

Harper advocates using the wide range of OER resources online, which are optimal "if you don't have time, money and don't want risk," she said during the presentation.

Harper's co-presenter, Kathy DuBois, of the Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI), provided a good case study of maneuvering copyright material. DuBois worked on OnTrack, an online repository of more than 600 classes focused on college readiness for high school students, funded by the Texas Education Agency.

With a small team of writers and technologists, much of the course materials had to come from the web. The team started by using an advanced Google search, which allows users to pinpoint what kind of material they want and to filter the results based on usage rights. The team also used media searches in the OER Commons and Creative Commons, an online organization dedicated to an open internet copyright landscape.

After filtering out sites with advertisements inappropriate for students, DuBois team checked for terms of use. Often, to use the materials, IPSI had to file permission requests with the content owner. That's not as big a deal as it sounds, DuBois said. Once you file the request, you are free to use the content. In many cases, IPSI didn't hear back from the owners, and most were amenable to allowing permission.

Non-profit education uses are rarely going to be challenged, but it's still important to keeping detailed documentation of the materials requested, DuBois said.

Some audience members questioned if this method was practical for for-profit education providers who have legal teams tasked with avoiding lawsuits. But Harper suggested the for-profit sector is overreacting—follow the laws and you'll find them generous, she said.

"It's not true that there's no fair use for for-profit users," she said.

The open resources movement is valuable because of its low cost, easy access, and efficiency. But the presenters noted a big barrier to maximizing the free materials out there: teachers' lack of knowledge of what they can and can't use.

Embrace your inner DJs, teachers.

Photo: Creative Commons logo used under Creative Commons license, from Flickr user MikeBlogs


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