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Copyright in MOOCs

When designing and producing a massive open online course (MOOC), instructors must pay special attention to copyright. The items below are important considerations and rules of thumb, but they do not constitute official Johns Hopkins University policy.

Copyright Considerations

  • Rely on third-party copyright protected works only when necessary since you will need to secure permission for their use, an often time-consuming process.
  • Charts, graphs, illustrations, and photos used in your face-to-face classroom are not necessarily usable in an online course unless the copyright holder has given you explicit permission to use them in your MOOC.
  • An image that is freely available online is not necessarily free of copyright restrictions. In fact, the vast majority of online content is protected by copyright.
  • Fair use can apply in open online courses, but the threshold is higher than in face-to-face classes because of the broader reach and longer duration of availability. See the Penn Libraries Guide for more information on fair use in MOOCs.
  • Use open image repositories to find images that are in the public domain or openly licensed.
  • If using an openly licensed image, make sure that you are complying with the license terms regarding attribution, commercial use, derivative works.

When can I use an image without getting permission?

  • When the image is your original work and has not been published in such a way that you have transferred your copyright to the publisher.
  • When the image was published before 1923.
  • When you supply learners with a link to an external source where the image is viewable in lieu of viewing it within your course site.
  • When an image is in the public domain (most US government works) or openly licensed (e.g Creative Commons).


For more information about MOOCs at Johns Hopkins, please contact Ira Gooding, Provost’s Fellow for Digital Initiatives, at 410-955-9280 or [email protected].

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