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Encouraging the use of Open Education Resources in schools

National Copyright Unit

In today's digital environment, teachers and students are connected by an ever-increasing number of devices to a world of online content. With an abundance of useful pedagogical resources and tools now available online, it is important that schools and teachers have regard to the copyright implications of their use of internet materials.

Although educational materials found on the internet are publicly (and, ostensibly, freely) available, they are often not in fact free for educational use. This is because Australian schools – unlike those in other countries – are subject to compulsory statutory licences for educational use of content in classrooms. The copying or communication of internet materials by schools and teachers is generally remunerable under Part VB of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (Copyright Act), which contains the statutory licence for use of text and artistic works for educational purposes.

Cost implications

The schools sector estimates that between 64 and 82% of remunerable website use in schools falls into the category of freely available internet material. The current situation means that schools are expected to pay for the vast majority of internet materials used, even where it is clear that the copyright owner never expected payment from schools, as is the case for example with tourist maps made available for download on tourism websites or Department of Health information sheets about how to treat head lice.

The copying and communication of materials represents an enormous cost to the school sector. In 2012, the Australian school sector paid over $80 million in licensing fees to copyright collecting societies for copying and communication of copyright content in schools, over and above the $665 million the sector paid to purchase educational content in that year. The schools sector estimates that between $8.34 and $10.79 million in licensing fees relates to the copying of freely available internet materials.

Usage implications

In addition to these cost concerns, when teachers use internet materials in the classroom they often lack the rights to remix and share content in innovative ways. The statutory licences in the Copyright Act provide very limited rights to use content within the school community. Where a broader use is desired – such as placing materials on a school's YouTube channel, entering student works into public competitions, or converting works into different types of media to meet particular student needs, among other uses – it can be difficult to navigate the complex maze of educational exceptions in the Copyright Act in order to work out what is and is not allowed.

To mitigate these concerns, schools and teachers should consider using Open Education Resources (OER) in their curriculum design and teaching activities.

Open Educational Resources and Creative Commons

OER are teaching and learning materials that are freely available for anybody to use, re-use and re-distribute for teaching, learning and research. There are many types of resources made available online as OER, including worksheets, curriculum materials, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, class activities, pedagogical materials, games and other resources. 

OER are based on some fundamental principles. These resources are:

  • free for any individual to use;
  • licensed for unrestricted distribution; and
  • open to be adapted, translated, re-mixed, and improved by the user.  

The most common source of open education material is material licensed under the Creative Commons licensing system. Creative Commons is a 'some rights reserved' model, as opposed to the 'all rights reserved' model of copyright law. Under a Creative Commons licence, the copyright owner retains ownership in their work while inviting certain uses of their work by others.

There are different types of Creative Commons licences, however one unifying feature is that they all allow free use for educational purposes. Therefore, neither permission nor payment is required in order to copy or communicate a Creative Commons-licensed work for teaching purposes. Most Creative Commons licences also allow modification, remixing and sharing of the licensed material.

The table below provides a summary of the different Creative Commons licences, along with their main conditions attached to them:


Benefits of OER

There are many benefits to using OER in the classroom. OER can dramatically reduce the costs of obtaining educational materials for use in schools, making an important contribution to the most pressing problem facing education systems around the world: delivering better results with fewer resources.

By encouraging teachers to legally share and collaborate on resources, OER also deliver greater learning efficiency, enabling educators to easily use the work of others and build upon it rather than reinventing the wheel.

Most types of OER can be modified, remixed and used in any way and with any new technology. This makes these resources adaptable to new teaching technologies and practices, such as the flipped classroom. The ability to modify and share OER also means that these materials can be translated and localised as appropriate to the particular circumstances of the school or class for which they are to be used.

Smart copying

Remembering four Ls can help schools and teachers to manage the risks and costs associated with using copyright content in classrooms:

  • Look for OER and use these as much as possible
  • Link to content using hyperlinks instead of making copies whenever this is an option
  • Limit the amount of content copied by teachers and schools to what is actually required for educational purposes
  • Later, delete (or archive) the content once it is no longer required for educational purposes.

Further resources

The Smartcopying website, administered by the National Copyright Unit, provides links to a wide range of OER databases that teachers can use to find relevant materials that are open and free for educational use: www.smartcopying.edu.au/scw/go/pid/936. The National Copyright Unit also makes its copyright presentations available via Slideshare: www.slideshare.net/nationalcopyrightunit.

In addition, the National Copyright Unit and Creative Commons Australia have jointly developed an information pack for teachers and students on Creative Commons, providing further information on how to find and attribute Creative Commons materials: www.smartcopying.edu.au/open-education/creative-commons/creative-commons-information-pack.

Not-for-profit organisation Peer 2 Peer University also runs a free and open online course called 'Get CC Savvy' which can be taken at the participant's own time and pace: https://p2pu.org/en/groups/get-cc-savvy/.


The internet offers a diversity of useful resources for schools and teachers. It is important to remain mindful to the copyright implications for the schools sector of using those materials. Creative Commons-licenced resources and other OER provide schools and teachers with the opportunity to use content in the ways that best meet their pedagogical needs while mitigating copyright costs to the schools sector.


Copyright Advisory Group – Schools, Submission 231 to the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy: (www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/subs/cag_schools_submission_-_ip_42_-_corrected.pdf)


OER CC By attribution

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.


Subject Headings

Intellectual property (IP)
Electronic publishing