Good practice Wales digital resources

How should we consider copyright when developing digital learning resources?

Jisc subject specialists Zac Gribble and John Kelly discuss the importance of copyright when developing effective digital learning rescources.

A chat with Jisc subject specialist for strategy and law: John Kelly

When and how should we consider copyright?

If we are creating content for our digital learning resources, we often look for elements such as images, audio, video or text from other sources.  This is not bad practice.  There is a wealth of knowledge being shared on the internet or in printed media that is extremely useful.  But there are steps that must be taken to ensure the content we include in our digital learning resources is being used fairly and legally.

This podcast is a chat with John Kelly who is a subject specialist at Jisc on strategy and law.

We wanted to briefly outline the importance of copyright, what it is and how to work with it.

So, what is copyright law?

Copyright law gives content owners the right to control how their material is used and shared.  For example: Music, video, e-books, software and films are all typically protected by copyright.  In most cases, a licence is required for re-use.

The law does provide some exceptions where permission (or a licence) is not needed.  These exceptions are usually restricted to non-commercial use.

It matters to be aware of copyright law because if you want to use content from another source, you need to be aware of what restrictions there may be.  The content owner will often define if and how you may be able to reuse it.  And for what purpose for example if it is for commercial work.

So If you see some content in a book or online that you want to use, whether that be images, text or media, unless there is information on how you can use it, it is safe to assume you can’t.  But there are often opportunities to use content with criteria set out how.  This can range from requiring attribution for non-commercial use to allowing changes, even for commercial use.

A rule of thumb for how you can use content, that isn’t your own, is to check if there is a license.

A license is a statement declaring if, how and when the content may be re-used.  To be clear, you don’t need a license to link to content, but you may need one if you want to insert the content (text, images, video etc) into your digital learning resource.  If there is no license available, and no information given on whether it can be re-used, then you should only re-use the content by requesting permission directly.

Requesting permission directly has never been easier with emails, social media and other digital communications allowing easy access to content owners.  As John says in the recording, many will welcome the request as they are happy for their work to be shared.  But they do want to be credited for it.  And that is a fair request.

A common form of license to cover content on the internet is a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a well-recognised form of license with many different variations that clearly state the boundaries in which the content it covers can be re-used.  You can find all the information you need on CC licenses at


Educational content is fair game?

It is a myth that if you are re-using someone else’s content for educational purposes, then that would be ok.  That is not the case.  Even when behind a login like on a VLE.

I have seen institutions receive notification of an un-licensed image on their VLE.  The notification, via email included an order to remove the image within the next 60 mins or make a payment of a few thousand pounds.  The problem was that a member of staff was using an image that they had copied in an image search online.  And without checking the copyright license, had put it on their VLE page.  A student had shared a screengrab of the page on social media, and it was picked up by the image owners.

Key points

So as we approach our digital learning resources projects, keep in mind what we can re-use.  We have all the tools and information available to ascertain whether a particular piece of content is available for us to use. Also, think about your resources already developed.   If you know you are at risk, there should be some time taken to plan when to get back on the right side of copyright law.

Key points to remember on copyright and licensing:

  • Before using someone else’s content, check if it is ok to use it, change it and share it online
  • Usually if someone shares resources for learning and teaching online, they will put some form of licence on it to tell you what freedoms they are giving you to use it.
    • Ideally this will be made clear somewhere on the resource,
    • If you can’t see it, have a look for a ‘terms of use’ section
    • If there is no obvious information there, it’s best to contact the source and ask permission.
  • You don’t need permission just to link to a resource online.
  • Elements within your resource, such as text, video, audio or images all need to be usable. If you have used the correct license or have got permission.  That is great.
  • It may sound long winded, but it is important to make that effort to ensure your digital learning resource is legal and safe to share with your learners.

By Zac Gribble

Subject Specialist - Digital Practice (platforms). I've worked in HE for over 10 years as a developer and leader in eLearning before joining Jisc. From working with students through to senior management, my passion for digital tools and user/student experience has played a huge role in this adventure. I'm a big user of technology in music as well as learning, design and developing. I'm just as happy to chat about sounds, microphones and hearing through spine conductivity for drummers!

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