In the second of our series of posts on MOOCs, Greg Gibson and Paul Knighthighlight a couple of the key issues that course providers need to consider relating to course content.

  1. Rights to publish material online as part of a MOOC

Course providers should not automatically assume that they have the right to publish their traditional course material online as part of a MOOC.  Where material has been written by the provider’s own staff, there is unlikely to be a problem as the provider is likely to own copyright, and all other rights, in the material.  However, where material has been written by other institutions, consultants or writers, copyright may only have been licensed, rather than transferred, to the course provider.  Therefore, the course provider will need to check carefully its contracts to review the scope of the licences it has been granted.

Course providers will also need to check the scope of any clearances they have in respect of third party photographs, illustrations and videos used in course content.  Are they cleared for use worldwide via the internet?  A linked consideration is the consents that may have been given by tutors and lecturers when videos were made of them; for example, a tutor may have been happy for a video to be shown in their own institution but this is not necessarily the same as consenting to the video being uploaded to the internet and made available worldwide.

  1. Rights to use course content

The next big issue is the rights to be licensed to students.  Copyright in course content will be infringed by someone who copies the content, or makes it available to other members of the public, without permission of the copyright owner (or an authorised licensee).  Using the internet to view course content will involve creating copies of the course content being viewed (it is a technical necessity).  Consequently, students will need permission to copy the course content for the purposes of participating in the online course.

Permission to make copies of course content can be implied or expressly stated.  To minimise the scope for uncertainty or dispute about the use of course content, we recommend expressly stating (for example, in the course terms of use) to what extent, and by whom, course content can be copied and shared.  Any licence is likely to be restricted to use by the student for their own private study.

  1. Accuracy of course content

Finally, course providers running MOOCs will need to consider to what extent they will guarantee the accuracy of the course content.  No doubt they will provide course content in good faith, but inaccurate course content can give rise to liability for a course provider, unless it is excluded in circumstances where it is reasonable to do so.  Where institutions provide an online course free of charge, it will be more reasonable to decline to provide any guarantee as to the accuracy of the course content than it would be if course participants are paying for access to the course content.