Course readings

Course readings in open online courses generally must be created by the instructor, must be open access or must be used with unrestricted permission from the copyright owner. If the course reading is already available on a publicly accessible website, then it is best to link to that content.

Unfortunately, there are no exceptions in Australian copyright law that grant any sort of blanket permission for course materials in open online courses. There are some exceptions that may apply to rare, specific, individual incidents; however, generally speaking, course materials in open online courses must be approached as if there are no statutory permissions available.

Instructor-created materials

One option for course readings in open online courses are those created for the course by the course instructors. In most cases, content created by UNSW instructors for UNSW-branded open online courses will be owned by UNSW, and it will be available for use in UNSW-branded open online courses. For more information about copyright ownership see Who owns the copyright?

If the content was not created specifically for the course, the copyright status of the material will affect whether it can be used in an open online course.

If the material is already published, regardless of whether it was created for the course, the instructor may not be the current copyright owner. The instructor should determine the copyright owner and request permission to use the material if necessary. In some cases, the instructor will not be able to obtain permission. If permission is not obtained, the material cannot be used in an open online course.

If the material was not created specifically for the course and it remains unpublished, the instructor may choose to publish the content prior to including it as a course reading. There are many opportunities available for self-publication and for traditional publication. If the material is published by a third party, care should be taken to retain the rights to use the material in the open online course.

Open access materials

Open access materials are materials that can be used for most purposes without asking the rights holders for permission, as long as certain obligations are met.

Proper use of open access materials depends on the specific open access licence attached, as different licences have slightly different conditions. However, most open access materials can be used for educational purposes, and obligations might include, for example, citing the material properly or linking the content back to the source. For more information see What is open access?

There are many searchable databases of open access content, and many journals make articles open access as a rule instead of an exception.

The Library can help you find open access content for your courses. For more information about open access resources suitable for your teaching, see Open online course resources guide. For further assistance contact your Outreach Librarian.

Unrestricted permission

Materials can also be used as course readings if unrestricted permissions are obtained from the copyright owners. Permissions for use of materials in open online courses should ideally be unrestricted in terms of duration, location, purpose and adaptability.

For example, an acceptable permission might allow a course reading to be used for any UNSW course on any platform at any time, as well as allow the course reading to be adapted to meet accessibility requirements.

It is possible to use materials as course readings if limited permission is received for a specific use, but unrestricted permission is preferable for administrative purposes. With unrestricted permission, the course reading can then be used in future iterations or reboots of the course without having to re-seek permission.

Freely available online content

The best way to use freely available online content as course readings is to provide students with a link to the content. Online content is still protected by copyright, and it should not be copied (downloaded) and communicated (uploaded) without permission from the rights holder.

However, if it is important to have a more permanent, archived copy of a website with an unbreakable link, there are many services available that can assist. Services such as can create permanent records of websites so that you can confidently link to course readings on websites. There are copyright issues to be considered when using such services, so please read the terms carefully before using.

Specific information about course materials for open online courses:

See also:

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