OER infoKit wiki Open Educational Resources infoKit / Intellectual Property Rights considerations
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Intellectual Property Rights considerations

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on June 17, 2010 at 7:54:28 pm


A JISC Legal guide to Legal Aspects of Open Educational Resources, including copyright and other IPR issues, is available at Legal Aspects of OER.


The JorumOpen Licensing Guide (embedded to the right) outlines the Creative Commons licences available within JorumOpen, which currently offers depositors the option to choose from the Creative Commons V2.0 UK: England and Wales suite of licences.




Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is a generic term that relates to copyright, trademarks, patents and other claims for 'ownership' of a resource - whether registered or unregistered. Issues around ownership, trust, provenance, attribution

and risk are all aspects of IPR that can present significant barriers to open sharing or release of learning materials.


Projects from the JISC/HE Academy Pilot Programme: OER Release have, like many previous projects, grappled with some of these barriers. Many seriously underestimated the amount of time that would be needed to chase provenance of existing resources, clear Copyright and take apart/strip resources where clearance was not possible. Several projects chose not to publish some resources where removal of 'offending' elements negatively affected the pedagogic value.


Copyright knowledge within educational institutions is often scattered across departments and not all institutions have a clearly identifiable person with responsibility for copyright issues in relation to learning and teaching materials. This, coupled with fearful, and often unaware, individuals and risk averse policy makers and lawyers created quite a challenge for many pilot projects and education around these issues became a significant activity.


This has resulted in many very useful guides, FAQs and workflow documents: Pilot programme outputs: Legal issues


This pilot programme, like the previous REPRODUCE Programme, had a remit to focus on existing content. From a funders point of view this goes some way towards improving efficienies, utilising previous investment and preventing duplication. Many projects felt that efforts would be more usefully placed on ensuring that new content is developed in an open and repurposable manner and that the significant resource needed to open up existing content was not sustainable. This programme has enabled many institutions and groups to develop robust practices and workflows to ensure that content is developed within legal constraints - which can be applied to both new and existing content.


insert quotation: "Final Report It is clear that unless issues of copyright ownership and accessibility of learning materials is addressed it is unlikely that a sufficient critical mass of re-usable content will be created. Content must be written for re-use and re-purposing addressing copyright and access from the outset. Only when this content has reached a critical mass will re-use and re-purposing of existing content be truly possible." EVOLUTION: Educational and Vocational Objects for Learning Using Technology In Open Networks  final report



JISC has published guidance on the various types of open licences suitable for resources released by JISC/HE Academy OER programme.  The Programme permits the use of any Creative Commons (CC) licence (be it ported or unported) but would need to see justification for the use of the No Derivatives clause. 


Most OERs are licensed under a version of Creative Commons license, an overview of which is available on the Creative Commons website. Such licenses protect the copyright of the learning resource creator, whilst specifying how it can be reused and repurposed. Perhaps the most commonly-used (including for this infoKit) is:


Attribution Share Alike (by-sa)



This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work and can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. JorumOpen also uses Creative Commons as its licence framework, and current indications are that the Attribution Share Alike (by-nc-sa) licence is the most commonly used for deposit into JorumOpen.


Other popular licensing options include:


  • GNU Free Document license ("The GFDL license grants rights to readers and users of materials to copy, share, redistribute and modify a work. It requires all copies and derivatives to be available under the same license. Copies may also be sold commercially. There are specific requirements for modifying works involving crediting the creator of the work and for distributing large numbers of copies." // source)
  • MIT license (a license created by the MIT under which users are given permission to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the work so long as the MIT license icense is included with the resource)  
  • Custom/Other license (the content creator decides upon the terms and conditions under which users may view, use, share, re-distribute, or modify a resource)


Including an OER resource within your own OER release is not, unfortuately, a straightforward process. Some licenses are incompatible with others - as the following table demonstrates:



An interactive version of this table is available. WikiEducator provides further guidance on license compatibility.


Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. Once a resource has been released under a CC-license users are permitted to continue using that resource under the license even if you withdraw it from circulation. Other specific considerations to Creative Commons licensing are dealt with in the Creative Commons FAQ.


Useful sources from a range of projects and services

A number of projects have published (as OERs) details of their own work regarding IPR, including details of policies and guidance for contributors, for example:


The CASPER project was established to support the RepRODUCE programme. It provides a range of online resources, including guidance on clearing background IPR, letter templates and licences. http://jisc-casper.org/


The Web2rights project was developed alongside the Users and Innovation programme. It created an interactive toolkit to facilitate the consideration of relevant issues when using web 2.0 resources in learning. http://www.web2rights.org.uk/.  An animation based on the work of this project has been released, http://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2008/12/web2rights.aspx.


JISC Legal provides guidance on all legal issues associated with open educational resources (including intellectual property rights.  provides guidance to the community on various legal issues, including intellectual property rights, http://www.jisclegal.ac.uk/ipr/IntellectualProperty.htm. There is also a JISC Legal video podcast specifically on OER issues (http://www.jisclegal.ac.uk/ManageContent/ViewDetail/tabid/243/ID/1150/OER--Legal-Matters--Webcast--051109.aspx).


The JISC IPR consultancy has also provided a range of materials in this area, including guidance specific to web 2.0, and useful background material for those unfamiliar with IPR issues:http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/projects/ipr.aspx.


The TrustDR project has produced a “development pack” dealing with IPR issues in content sharing: http://trustdr.ulster.ac.uk/outputs.php



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