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Copyright Center

MOOC's and Copyright (FY '13-14)

MOOC’s and Copyright

Image taken from University of Louisiana Delphi Center’s “The Teaching Practice” blog

    You have probably heard the term, “MOOC” and have noticed its growing frequency of use in higher education.  MOOC stands for “Massive Open Online Course,” and is freely available online and open to anyone.  With this being said, hundreds to thousands of people could be enrolled.  From Coursera to Udacity to EdX, MOOC companies are sweeping with popularity.  However, with these new types of courses come two key copyright concerns. 

   The first concern has to do with ownership of the content within the course.  According to a blog post by Kenneth Crews, “We should view the copyright in online courses not as a legal assertion, but as a set of rights to be shared and managed.  Rather than leave copyright ownership to a legal answer, universities and their faculty should implement policies and agreements that specifically distribute rights among the interested parties.”  This is true because depending on the university, some content created by faculty can be “work for hire” in which the university owns the material, while other works created by faculty members may be owned by those faculty members, and sometimes, content may even be owned by the commercial MOOC company.  “Best practice would be to understand the terms, bring all relevant players together, and get written, signed agreements in order to have clear lines around who owns MOOC content,” according to a blog post by Merrilee,  Senior Program Officer in OCLC Research. 

   The second concern deals with the type of content that should be used within the MOOC.  Since massive numbers of students are enrolled in these courses, it is best to avoid incorporating content that requires copyright permission for three reasons:  1) High cost for massive enrollment, 2) Lengthy negotiation time with publishers, and 3) Permission agreements differ between non-profit universities and for-profit MOOC companies.  Therefore, it is best to incorporate resources that are best suited for MOOCs, such as:  Creative Commons-licensed material, Public Domain resources, and Open Access documents.  The first, Creative Commons licenses, hold different rights – some with more limitations than others.  But, the most flexible license is the “CC-BY” license which means that the material can be freely shared or remixed in any way - including for commercial purposes, under the condition that the resource is properly attributed.  As for public domain documents, these can also be freely used in a MOOC.  Examples of public domain material include U.S. government works, such as, those created by the State Departments, facts and non-creative works, and works whose copyright has expired (i.e., Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Melville’s Moby Dick).  Finally, the last type of resource mentioned is Open Access.  According to Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview, “Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” 

   Since it can be difficult to know where to start when looking for resources – especially ones that are MOOC-friendly please begin by visiting some of the websites below.  Remember to read the fine print to ensure proper usage and attribution.  If you have any questions along the way, please be sure to contact Bellevue University’s Copyright Center by phone (402-557-7305), or email (  As always, thank you for your continued support.

Helpful Websites:

Creative Commons Search –

Directory of Open Access Journals - 

Getty Museum Open Collection -

Internet Archive -

Open Access Textbooks -

OER Commons -

Project Gutenberg –

Ted Ideas Worth Spreading -



Cornell University -

Creative Commons -

Crews, Kenneth. Copyright Advisory Office -

Delphi Center -

Hanging Together blog -

Penn Libraries -

Suber, Peter.  Open Access Overview -