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What you need to know about copyright for online courses

Whether your online course is 100% your work or it includes someone else’s already created materials, you need to think about copyright. Copyright protects the exclusive rights one has over their created content, such as: reproducing the work, making derivatives of it, distributing the work to the public, performing or displaying it publicly.

According to the U.S. law, any tangible and original work falls under copyright protection. This happens the moment the work is created, without the necessity of using a copyright symbol or state explicitly that the work is copyrighted. Moreover, the protection is international due to the Berne Convention.

The goal of copyright law is to promote the progress of science and useful arts by granting protection as an incentive for authors to keep creating original work. As a result, using someone else's work without permission limits their commercial benefits and can trigger accusations of infringement.

Using copyrighted work in your online course

Presumably, every original and creative work you can find online is someone's property. So if you want to include something that you didn’t create in your online course, you need permission from the owner to use it or change it, distribute it or display it, or in some cases you only need to give clear credit to the author.

There are some works that don't have copyright protection, such as ideas, theories, concepts, procedures, methods, symbols, slogans, facts — because they are considered public domain, thus free to use.

The learning content you create in your course needs to be eye-catching and modern. You need great imagery and even multimedia resources. There is a real bounty of images, videos and infographics on the internet, yet this richness comes with the constant worry that they may be protected by copyright.

Creative Commons is a tool that is designed to shed some light on the free, ready to use stuff that is out on the web. There are four basic types of license formats of creative Commons. If you respect them, you’re good to go.

  • CC BY (Attribution) — refers to open license and allows people/users to share, alter, remix, change the work;
  • CC BY-ND (Non-Derivative) — refers to free commercial distribution of the work, but without any alteration of it;
  • CC BY-NC (Non-Commercial) — refers to derivative work used for non-commercial purposes;
  • CC BY-SA (Share-Alike) — allows for commercial derivatives, but the results must be distributed under the same license.

Variations of these types include:

  • CC BY-NC-SA (Non-Commercial & Share-Alike) — the work cannot be distributed for commercial purposes and any distribution must be done under the same license;
  • CC BY-NC-ND (Non-Commercial & Non-Derivative) — the work can be downloaded and shared for non-commercial purposes and also no derivatives can be created.

Copyrighting your own work

Copyright in the case of online content creators is an avenue that goes both ways. Created for people like you, who create content, the Creative Commons platform allows you to copyright your work, but also use content created by others, fast and safe, without having to pay for it and without needing permission to use it because it's already appropriately credited.

Every copyrighted work can be shared easily within the copyright framework using the Creative Commons platform. Due to the fact that creative people need acknowledgement and remuneration for their work Creative Commons is the best place for them. You can even license your own work under CC framework to gain more visibility, to apply for specific license online, to get credit for your work, to have more rights over your own content.

CC licensed resources include: literary works, videos, photos, audio, open education, scientific research and more. With 1.1 billion works and counting there's plenty for you to choose from.

All you need to do is:

  • Create an account;
  • Have two people already part of CC who can vouch for you;
  • Have a recognizable name in the community;
  • Sign-up and agree the Global Network Code of Conduct and the usage policy of the site.

Now, you can make your work available in safe conditions and you also get to have access to lots of materials to use in your course.

Final advice

Remember to respect others and their work if you want the same respect and recognition. It may not be the easy way, but it's definitely the best way. Not everything we see online is ours to use. It takes approximately 120 years of existence for the work to be considered public domain. So, be creative, be respectful of others' work and create your online courses with principles and values in your heart. In this way you cannot fail!

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