Images 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. An exception is supporting images, such as graphs and figures, which can be used without permission if they are insignificant to the work as whole.
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.
Photographs, fine art and stand alone images
For most images used in an open online course, the image must be created by the instructor, must be open access or must be used with unrestricted permission from the copyright owner.
Image is a broad word. Examples of images include:
- Technical drawings
Images can be used freely in open online courses if they are created for the courses 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. You can find out more information about copyright ownership at Who owns the copyright?
Images can also be used if they have appropriate open access licences. Open access materials 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 an overview of open access, check out What is open access?
Images can also be used 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.
Supporting graphs, figures and charts
Many scholarly articles and other publications include supporting images like graphs, figures and charts. These materials are not separately published, and often they lack the necessary originality to gain protection as artistic works.
Use of supporting images such as graphs, figures and charts is a complicated issue. They can be used separately as long as they are insignificant to the work as whole. The test of insignificance is one of both quantity and quality. It’s not enough that the graph is on one page of a 30-page article; if it concerns a central, guiding discovery discussed in the article, then it may be significant and not able to be used. For further assistance contact your Outreach Librarian.
Freely available online content
Online content is still protected by copyright and it should not be copied (downloaded) and communicated (shared) without permission from the rights holder.
It can be difficult to find the rights holders for images found through a standard Google image search. The best way to find images online for use in open online courses is to start with a search that only returns open access images. The Library can help with this. For more information about open access resources suitable for your teaching, see Open online course resources guide. For further assistance contact your Outreach Librarian.