I would like to put content from my university course online
March 19, 2020 10:36 PM   Subscribe

I teach a large undergraduate course in R and statistics. Especially given the COVID-19 crisis, I would like to make my videos and materials free for anyone to use by putting them on my webpage and/or Youtube. I do not fully understand the legal aspects to this.

I really think these materials are things that lots of people could use - there is no similar course anywhere online (like on Coursera or whatever). I have no interest at all in creating a MOOC or charging people for this. I've looked into the university's process for doing something like that, and it is extremely burdensome (I have to get all the materials vetted, get videos made by professionals, etc) and liable to take a very very long time - months if not over a year.

Basically, I just have all of this course material and I want to make it available now. I have the technical skill to create a YouTube channel and/or put it on my personal webpage. However, I'm really afraid of getting in trouble with my university; several of my colleagues think this is highly probable, others don't think so.

I would like to hear from people who know something about this. I have looked it up and my university claims copyright over all teaching materials. However, it appears (to me) that me posting these things would constitute fair use as long as they are for an educational purpose and I'm not making profit from them. Is that correct? What considerations am I not thinking of? Who do I contact about this?

If it matters, I'm in Australia.

(I know people will tell me to ask the copyright office of my university. I might do that. I hesitate because everyone is overworked and moving online right now and I'm expecting it will take me forever to get in touch with someone who knows what they are talking about, and their reflexive reaction to anything will be to say no. Part of me thinks that this is a situation where it may be better to ask forgiveness and permission, as long as I have good reason to think that what I'm doing is alright. But, again, this may be stupid. I am not very good at "toeing the company line" in the best of cases and right now I really just want to do some good for people and am rebelling against what looks like arbitrary and stupid constraints on doing that. If I need to be talked down from that, please talk me down, because even though I really want to do this, I don't want to lose my job for it).
posted by forza to Law & Government (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, this is absolutely a no-no, assuming you are a paid employee of the university and created the materials as part of your employment. It would be very hard to argue that putting entire course materials online would constitute fair use and it could definitely see you lose your job.
posted by ryanbryan at 11:43 PM on March 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Can I ask if you've reached out to your library and the librarians there? I'm not at all familiar with Australian copyright law, but this is absolutely the sort of thing I, as an American librarian, could help answer here in the US. If I didn't, I would know who in the library could help with this. Lots of vendors are offering more content for free online right now, and lots of folks are getting their stuff online. At my library, we might even give you server space to do this--which would also make it more discoverable.

Yeah, this is absolutely a no-no, assuming you are a paid employee of the university and created the materials as part of your employment.
Are faculty in Australia the same as other employees? In the US anyway, it's a bit different.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:53 PM on March 19, 2020

Disclaimers: Not A Lawyer, Not Australian

I know people will tell me to ask the copyright office of my university.

YES DO THIS. And/or a lawyer specializing in copyright law & intellectual property. Because:

If I need to be talked down from that, please talk me down, because even though I really want to do this, I don't want to lose my job for it).

I think losing not only your job but any hope of a future career in higher education is a real possibility.

However, it appears (to me) that me posting these things would constitute fair use as long as they are for an educational purpose and I'm not making profit from them. Is that correct?

So, technically, the Australian copyright exceptions are called "fair dealing" (Wikipedia on Australian Copyright Law), which is similar to but not exactly like "fair use." Here is the "fair dealing" clause of the law - note that it says,
(1A) A fair dealing with a literary work (other than lecture notes) does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the work if it is for the purpose of, or associated with, an approved course of study or research by an enrolled external student of an educational institution.
The exemptions are for using other people's work in an educational setting - how fair dealing would apply to an institution's own copyrighted material is unclear, and the kind of question that should be answered by an expert (lawyer, university copyright office, librarian).

You also need to check with an expert because you need to know what the standard practice is in Australia for dealing with copyright violations. In the US "fair use" basically works in two ways: 1) in the case of really obvious and clearly precedented exceptions, like quoting a small portion of a work in a review, any attempt at a lawsuit will get refused by the courts or quickly dismissed and 2) it's your defense in court as you go through the long expensive process of being sued for copyright violations. There's no, like, specialty tribune or government office that quickly rules on copyright, and typing "fair use" on your YouTube page is not some kind of magic shield. In the US, copyright doesn't have to be "defended", you own it until and unless you specifically sell it or give it away. This means that copyright owners have a lot of leeway in deciding when or if to go after someone - just because 1000 14-year-olds have their acoustic version of today's hit song up on YouTube, doesn't mean that the copyright owners have lost their right to sue Famous Person for doing the same, or to go after someone pressing bootleg CD's, or whatever.

So if you were in the US, almost certainly the first thing that would happen is that you would get fired and served with a "cease and desist" order requiring you to take the material down, and then if you felt really strongly about this you could leave the material up and wait for the actual lawsuit and then probably also countersue and then you and your lawyers would then have to compile evidence and find precedents to prove that your use of the material constitutes "fair use."

If Australia works the same way, do you really have the time and money for this? And would being fired for copyright violations affect your ability to find another job at another university?

In this time of COVID-19, with all sorts of schools moving to "online only" teaching, I think it's entirely possible that your school would embrace this idea if you ask.

TL:DR - you really need to check in with an Australian expert, because this is a case where asking for forgiveness after the fact rather than permission beforehand could very well have serious consequences.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:34 AM on March 20, 2020

Hi there, I'm an attorney with experience advising US universities and my specialty is intellectual property, including online learning. I agree with the above responses that you're best served finding someone with experience in the Australian context. Have your colleagues done this? They're your best bet for finding out what's permissible in the context of your university.

With that being said, I can speak generally about academia and ownership--with the understanding that I come from a US common-law background.

Generally, professors own their instructional media. This means when you have the legal right to use the courseware you develop, and allow others to use it, as you see fit. However, there are exceptions, as always.

*Did anyone else contribute to the materials you want to use? You may need their permission.
*Did you make substantial use of university resources to create the materials? Not just use of university IT resources, but did you employ instructional technologists, or use an expensive and unusual university resource to create them? The university may own in these circumstances.
*Did the university specifically commission you to create the materials? Not as in, "forza, please teach R this semester" but "please create this course with these parameters for use by the university's instructors."
*Even if the answers to these questions are no, you do need to consider other university policies. For example, does your university's conflict of interest/commitment policy look like? Many universities don't consider freely available/no-credit-or-certificate use to be a conflict of interest/commitment, but of course your university's view is the one that matters.
posted by benbenson at 7:01 AM on March 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

Important vocabulary that hasn't come up yet: it sounds like you are describing creating an Open Educational Resource (OER) .

Practically, this means adding a creative commons (or similar open license) license to the materials -- CC BY or CC BY NC.

As bluedaisy says above - get thee to the library, and in touch with a librarian. Your institution may even have a librarian who is a point person for OER. In my experience in the US, and from reading about OER from CA, UK, and Australia, uni librarians often have done all the groundwork in understanding copyright concerns, and they can guide you in your work. (And a quick search shows that librarians are active in Australian higher ed, no question).

In my own context in higher ed in the US, creating OER is considered a professional contribution to the field, and something that institutions and governments brag about being a part of. My feeling is that if you can get in touch with the right folks, you can get the support you need, and maybe even a boost to get it done.

One last thing - youtube is rife with misinformation and disinformation, and viewers of your content may be lead down the suggestion trail to bad or harmful info. Consider an alternative, such as Vimeo or Internet Archive, which will also host your material for free.
posted by anotherbrick at 9:41 AM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! This has been incredibly helpful, both in telling me what considerations I need to be thinking about, but more importantly in figuring out who to talk to for my particular case. (And in stopping me from just putting it up and hoping for the best because, yeah, this is a thing I really want to do but definitely not worth putting my job or career in jeopardy for).

I'll still be checking if anyone has anything to add, but like I said what is here is great. Much appreciated!
posted by forza at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2020

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