Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Open Pedagogy

“Copyright, Creative Commons, Fair Use, Public Domain” by Langwitches is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0

This week’s Digital Pedagogy workshop, “Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Open Pedagogy” will occur Tuesday, November 17, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, November 18, from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).

Over the course of this semester we’ve looked at many pedagogical practices and associated technologies that result in the creation, by instructors and students, of new intellectual content and its representations in digital formats. Such content and representations are intellectual property. Usually, that content incorporates or in some way draws upon existing content, which of course is also intellectual property. In addition, then, to the pedagogical and technical factors involved in using digital tools and applications, there are legal and ethical considerations that may need to be addressed. Copyright, fair use, open access, citation, attribution, plagiarism, etc….how do we begin to sort out what we need to know and do in order to act responsibly?

We approach these matters both from the user side (what can I do with content that others have created?) and the owner side (what do I want others to be able to do with what I have created?). In either case, the same fundamental principles apply. For example, as soon as a work is created–a line of text or code, a photograph or drawing, a set of data, etc.–copyright law automatically comes into play. There is no need to apply for coverage, affix a notification, or even publish what has been produced. How that work can then be used by others, in educational settings and/or in newly created works, is a matter of interpretation that is broadly guided by the “fair use doctrine” that is part of the copyright statute. There are many variables that come into play, and the principles of fair use are intentionally vague; thus, determinations generally must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Obviously, intellectual property is a huge and complicated topic, so the goal here is mostly to introduce the subject, pull together a few helpful resources, and provide a space to discuss specific cases where you might be unsure about what’s appropriate, either for your own scholarship or that of your students. What are typical situations that might arise at Austin College with respect to intellectual property issues? Who do you turn to for advice and information, and/or what resources do you consult? I think we could all benefit from some open conversation about how we as an academic community address these issues. Abell Library has a copyright policy for library course reserves that you should be familiar with, but that covers just one limited set of circumstances out of many possible scenarios in which intellectual property concerns may arise.

For a broader introduction to intellectual property, an excellent resource that I have discovered is the Copyright Crash Course developed by copyright attorney Georgia Harper at the University of Texas Libraries. Sometimes, there really is no need to reinvent the wheel. This comprehensive guide offers clear explanations on topics from the perspective of both the producer and the consumer of intellectual property, with additional sections on library and institutional concerns. As Harper points out in her introduction,

The role of copyright in the flow of research is undergoing dramatic and exciting change. It’s occurring at the margins right now, but it will one day extend to every aspect of scholarly endeavor. This is a very exciting time to be an academic. The options for scholarly communication have never been broader or more effective. You’ll find discussion of copyright woven all through important aspects of research and teaching, such as

  • the use of others’ works in the classroom, in fieldwork, and the laboratory
  • building on the works of others to create new works
  • open source software development
  • use and reuse of datasets
  • Creative Commons licensing of educational resources
  • open access to research results and its acceleration of the pace of scientific discovery
  • the digitization of books in the public domain and digital access to works still in print as well as orphan works
  • the resulting opportunities to discover knowledge that’s been hard to access in the past.

Really…just check it out. You can even take a quiz at the end to assess you knowledge 😉

Another fine resource that I would recommend is a screencast produced by my colleague Chris Lott, entitled “Copyright and Fair Use.” This is an excellent short overview with an especially helpful description of fair use within educational settings.

Both Harper and Lott emphasize the fact that educators should not be afraid to exercise their rights under the doctrine of fair use. It is a right, not a privilege. There are no known cases in which an individual educator has been successfully prosecuted for infringement in a fair use case. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon instructors to be familiar with the law in general and with the “four factor test” of the fair use doctrine, in particular, in order to make appropriate judgments on a case-by-case basis.

One of the most important movements in intellectual property management that has developed in the digital era is Creative Commons, a public non-profit that has developed a standardized set of licensing permissions that allow content owners to make their work available for reuse on their own terms. In turn, this licensing system is creating an expanding set of resources that can be freely and legally used by others.

If you want to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created, you should consider publishing it under a Creative Commons license. CC gives you flexibility (for example, you can choose to allow only non-commercial uses) and protects the people who use your work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions you have specified.

If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of our copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day.

This infographic from Creative Commons lays out the basic scheme of the licenses, from most to least open:

creative-commons2 (1)

Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright; they attach qualifications and terms to it. CC licenses, widely used online, are placed on works by their owners in order to specify how others may use their work. The underlying intent of Creative Commons goes far beyond simply property management; it is even more a means of creating an ethos that promotes the openness and sharing of content on the broadest possible terms.

Thus, as the title of this post indicates, my perspective on intellectual property is enveloped by broader interests in “open pedagogy” as a philosophical framework for teaching and learning. David Wiley has championed this approach and, with respect to open educational resources (OER) in particular, has developed the “5R” approach to educational materials, encouraging creators to grant the following permissions for their content:


In her essay “What is Open Education?,” philosophy professor Christina Hendricks builds on this foundation to further articulate an open approach to teaching and learning:

Examples of open pedagogy include activities from asking students to make public blog posts (or posts that are at least shared with the rest of the class, even if they are not public), having students create websites or wikis that showcase a research project they have completed, encouraging students to revise OER and re-share them for other students, teachers and the public, to opening one’s classroom activities to participation by those not officially registered in the course (such as by having discussions on social media, opening up presentations by doing them on webinars, and more).

So, what are your experiences in dealing with these issues? Share with and learn from your colleagues here in our comment section and at our workshops this week.

Curated resources