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Provides a general overview of copyright issues for University of Maryland faculty and students.

General Copyright Issues for Coursera/edX/MOOC Courses

Acknowledgements: This guide on Coursera and MOOCs is based on guidelines authored by Kevin Smith, Duke University and adapted by Shawn Martin, University of Pennsylvania.

For those who are participating in Coursera (, the massive open online course (MOOC) platform used by UMD and many other universities, there are special copyright considerations.

  • Coursera advises against the use of third-party materials in courses unless permission has been obtained.  Librarians will assist with getting permission whenever possible, but it is not always feasible to contact the rights holders or to pay the fees requested.  
  • Coursera is a for-profit company.  Therefore, many of the educational exceptions that allow classroom use of copyrighted materials without permission do not apply to Coursera courses.
  • Fair use may apply to Coursera courses, but in a more limited fashion than it does in closed classroom environments, including on campus instruction.
  • Generally, Coursera advises instructors  to create their own content and limit their use of third-party copyrighted materials to cases where it is essential to the pedagogy of the course. 
  • Even though Coursera is a platform designed for teaching, copyright rules regarding reproduction of images work the same way in Coursera as they might in an e-textbook. 
  • If Coursera finds potential infringements in your course, it is possible that your course may suddenly be taken down from the Coursera site.
  • Instructors may use content that is in the public domain or licensed for any use, including for-profit purposes, through the Creative Commons or similar licensing agencies.  
  • In all cases, instructors should make an attribution to the original source in their slides or other class materials.  If including attribution on the particular slide or at the time when the work is used would harm the flow of the instruction, acknowledgment may appear at the end of an individual lecture. 
  • It is preferable to link out to files if they are available on the web.  Doing this decreases the chances that the course will be subject to a “take down” notice.

Fair Use Considerations for a Coursera/edX/MOOC Course

For a Coursera course, utilization of fair use is limited.  Instructors can usually rely on fair use if they do the following:

  • Use only brief quotations from the literature of a discipline and incorporate them into a lecture and/or the accompanying slides.
  • Directly critique or comment on the image in the slide.  For instance utilize a graph, and mention in the commentary how the graph relates to a larger point.  
  • Utilize only materials that are "factual," and do not utilize materials that are "creative" in nature.  For example, utilizing a graph of a study that is only illustrating facts published in a scientific article is more likely to be considered a fair use than using a piece of art, which relies more on creative interpretation rather than factual demonstration.
  • Use the material in a "transformative" way; that is, the purpose of the use in the course is completely different than ithe original purpose of the material.  Examples of "transformative" use could include juxtaposing images next to each other to show differences, or overlaying commentary or drawings on top of an image to highlight particular features.

Using Textual Materials for a Coursera/edX/MOOC Course

  • Using short quotations from books, articles, or other textual materials that are incorporated into a lecture and/or the accompanying slides are generally fair use and do not require permission.  
  • Distribution of more text than a short quotation, however, likely does require the permission of the publisher (not necessarily the author) of the work.
  • Publishers are more likely to grant permission when the author is using his or her own work.  Therefore, instructors are encouraged, when possible, to use quotations from their own work.
  • Publishers are also more likely to grant permission when students are encouraged to buy the work being quoted.  So, whenever possible, instructors should make a recommendation to purchase the book or article from which an excerpt is taken, and link to a site where students can purchase the book.
  • Instructors should also check whether a particular article is now available through an open-access repository such PubMed Central, a society, or a university.

Textbook publishers  may be willing to authorize use of the image content and other materials from a textbook in your recorded lectures, if the text is a recommended resource for the course. Some journals, too, may be willing to authorize use of articles or content taken from articles (or "portions of articles") in course lectures and recommended readings.  Moreover, faculty who are the original authors of such articles are more likely to obtain permissions for these uses.

Using Audio/Video Materials for a Coursera/edX/MOOC Course

  • Coursera prefers that “popular” music or videos should not be used without permission.  Use of other musical or sound recordings should be evaluated carefully and on a case-by-case basis.
  • Instructors are encouraged to use documentary, educational, older, or historic films and videos wherever possible.
  • It is preferable to link out to a sound file if one is available on the web.  In those cases, students would be directed to follow the link, and then return to the lecture.  This is especially appropriate when the entirety of a video or audio work must be seen or heard before the lecture will continue.  Incorporating significant amounts of a sound or video into a lecture increases the chances that the course will be subject to a “take down” notice.
  • Files used should generally not be longer than is needed to make the pedagogical point.
  • If possible, the discussion of what students are hearing should be intermingled with audio and video files.  
  • When a substantial clip of audio or video, which will not be intermingled with discussion, is incorporated into the lecture, rather than linked to, permission should be sought.