Astrid Bovell on October 11th, 2013
Last week marked the end of my work on Coursera 2013. My journey into Coursera and Copyright started back in October 2012 and has been a roller coaster ever since! MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are courses developed (usually) by universities that are made available online for free for anyone in the world to take up and study. In 2012 the University of Melbourne partnered with one of the major providers of MOOCs – Coursera. When our office was first told about the plan to provide Massive Open Online Courses, we knew it would be a challenge, but never quite expected it to be this much of a challenge. For someone with a background in copyright, the idea of having content rich, copyright compliant Massive Open Online Courses seemed (naively) simple. We knew we wouldn’t be able to rely on the regular provisions we rely upon for using copyright protected material in class, because those provisions, licences and subscriptions are paid for by the University and are based on the number of enrolled students. Attempting to pay these fees on behalf of hundreds of thousands of students that are not fee paying renders relying on those licences impossible. It also wasn’t clear whether the statutory licences would apply to an online course offered in the US and with students participating from around the world. So we promoted the use of Creative Commons and public domain material, creating content from scratch and thought that perhaps, there might be a few permission requests involved (Ha!).
We did rely a lot on sourcing Creative Commons and public domain material, but we found that many lecturers wanted to maintain using content they were using in their bricks and mortar classroom. That meant that we needed to seek permission for content to be used on the net for world-wide public access as part of a video lecture. Permissions were time consuming, we spent a lot of time explaining to rights holders what a MOOC was and how it worked. Initially we had a lot of stalemates where content owners were so caught up in trying to work out whether to charge a fee and if so, what kind of fee is appropriate that we never heard back from them. This eased up a little over the year as content owners became more familiar with our requests, but in most instances, requests were still being considered on a case by case basis which takes weeks of time to clear. In many instances we quickly ran out of time to agree to use the content and frequently sourced copyright friendly alternatives (often to the dismay of the academic presenting the lectures). All in all we made approximately 123 formal requests to use content in Coursera and were successfully able to secure close to 95% of them.
I haven’t been able to finalise the figures, but it’s looking a lot like our office checked close to 2000 items for copyright compliance. That involves looking at the source of each work, analysing whether it has been made available legitimately, checking the licensing information and whether the work is able to be used and then creating an accurate citation for the work, seeking permission if required or seeking an alternative work. As you might imagine, this was all quite taxing on resources and we were lucky enough to receive assistance in the form of ERC Client Services & Liaison Librarian Craig Patterson and Brownless Biosciences Librarian John Christou who worked in our office on secondment one day a week to help out with clearing content and creating citations.
While ensuring all the content used in our Coursera subjects has been a challenge, it’s also offered great opportunity. Melbourne was the first Australian university to partner with Coursera and as a result, there was great interest from other universities world wide as to how we were dealing with the copyright issues surrounding Coursera. It has given us the opportunity to share our new knowledge with other universities and has brought to light the significant role that the Library will play in the future at universities – a question many people have been wondering about as our world becomes increasingly digital and online. In addition, it gave our office the wonderful opportunity to encourage others to learn and discover the value of understanding how copyright works.