InTeGrate copyright webinar »

Copyright and Authoring GETSI Materials

Copyright basics for authors was covered in detail during an December 2015 InTeGrate webinar. You can watch the webinar or view the slides.
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GETSI materials will be freely disseminated with the hope that they will be adopted by faculty from a variety of institutions across the country. To help ensure easy adoption, we will make the materials available under a license that unambiguously allows for the sort of reuse we hope to see. To make this a reality we need to ensure that all the materials you as an author contribute can be legally redistributed in this way. Here is what you need to know (and do) to make that happen:

  1. Text that you write in the website (student materials, guides for faculty, etc...) is assumed to be your original creation. As part of your contract you have agreed to give this material to GETSI so that it can be redistributed. If you are using text that you did not personally create, then you need to confer with the people directing your team to make sure the copyright situation with the particular text is acceptable and documented with the CMS in the right way.
  2. When you upload files to the CMS (images, text files, spreadsheets...) the upload dialog will prompt you to indicate where the materials came from and what the licensing situation is. You need to fill this information out accurately. Do it when you first upload the file; do not imagine you will get around to it later. In general, it is simplest if the materials are something original that you created. In that case, the default: that you are the author and are offering it under the Creative Commons license, is appropriate. If you did not create the file and do not have some explicit license or permission to redistribute the material under our license then, in general, we cannot use it within GETSI. There are a variety of options outlined below for dealing this issue.

What is Copyrightable?

Remember that Copyright Is Not About Ideas

Copyright only covers the particular expression of an idea, not the idea itself. So the materials you create for GETSI will undoubtedly build on and draw from ideas from many different sources. This is fine and not a copyright concern. Of course you will want to give credit to the sources of the ideas (e.g. in the provenance field when uploading a file). Copyright comes into play if you are copying something verbatim or with enough of the original intact that it is recognizable. So copying text, images, and figures are all a problem. Using the idea for an activity you heard from a colleague is not (though it would be good to acknowledge them).

Figures, Diagrams and Images

In general, using figures, diagrams and images that others have created as part of your GETSI work raises copyright concerns. Here are some strategies:

  1. Create or recreate the figure/image yourself. If you have created it from scratch (without slavishly copying some existing original) then there is no copyright concern. Remember that data itself ca not be copyrighted. So if there is a figure you like in a book, you can get the original data (perhaps even extrapolating from the original figure) and create a new figure yourself. Given that GETSI aims to make high-quality material widely available, a little extra effort put into creating original figures is often worthwhile.
  2. Get permission from the copyright holder. This may be simple if they are easily identifiable or very difficult if the original author is not willing to give permission or if the origin of the material is not clear. You want to make sure you get permission for GETSI to distribute the material under our specific creative commons license . See below for an example permission letter.
  3. Find a substitute for the original that is not encumbered by copyright or has a license that matches ours. A good place to start is the creative commons search page where you can search for existing materials with clear licenses. Other sources for clearly and liberally licensed images can be found on SERC's general copyright page.
  4. Just provide a link to the original. If the original is widely available (e.g freely available on the web) then it may be simpler to just provide a link to the original or a description of how to find it. There are no copyright concerns in linking to materials. Of course, if the material is central to an activity then relying on links to outside websites is likely not a strong strategy. Likewise, while providing a journal citation for an important article may be an easy way around getting permission to post the article, consider whether the full range of GETSI users are likely to have easy access to the journal in question.

Fair Use

Fair use is what instructors often lean on when using published materials in the classroom. GETSI is most likely not covered by "fair use" laws as detailed below in an InTeGrate video about it.

Some Particular Cases

Good sources for useable images

  • Wikipedia - all images are under Creative Commons licenses and can be used for non-commercial purposes
  • Flickr Creative Commons - many (but definitely not all) images on Flickr are creative commons
  • American Geosciences Institute Image Bank
  • Google Image Search
    • Search for your item of interest
    • Tools -> Usage rights -> Labeled for noncommercial reuse
  • Google Maps and Google Earth can be used for non-commercial purposes as long as attribution is given. Get in the habit of just putting something like "Background image from Google Earth" whenever one of their maps appears in something.
  • or - generally not scientific images but potentially helpful for more general open use pictures
  • U.S. Federal Government - Materials produced by federal government employees in the course of their work is automatically in the public domain (they have no copyright constraints). However, do double check if any copyright is indicated on materials from government websites. If they are produced by contractors (not federal employees) it could be copyrighted so look around to see if you see any copyright notice.
  • European Space Agency does allow non-commercial reuse of their images and videos as long as there is attribution
  • AGU journals
    • "one image" is ok to use for non-commercial purposes without permission (no real definition of "one image" (per document? per webpage?) for regular journals
    • completely open access creative commons for "open access" journals
  • PNAS (Proceedings of National Academy of Science) – allows reuse of images for non-commercial educational purposes
  • GSA journals – "If you want to use a single figure, a brief paragraph, or a single table from a GSA publication, GSA considers this to be fair usage, and you need no formal permission and no fees are assessed unless you or your publisher require a formal permission letter. In that case, you should print a copy of this document and present it to your publisher."
  • World Bank – releases most publications under Creative Commons

Other notes

  • **State, local, and foreign government work is not necessarily public domain. First try to find a copyright, intellectual property, or reuse page to see if they grant permission for non-commercial or educational uses. If not or they do not say, you must assume it is all copyrighted and proceed accordingly (see below on asking permission).
  • If you want to use an image but are not sure of the origin, you can do a Search by Image.
    • Go to Google Image Search
    • Click the Camera icon
    • Then select "Upload an image"
  • We cannot pay for use. Most of these sites require money annually forever and we just cannot get into that.
    • Example: New York Times requires payment for the sort of republishing GETSI authors might like to engage in. Payments must be made annually and in perpituity at costs that are beyond the project's means to support. So directly reposting articles (or photos/figures/diagrams) from the New York Times is not possible. Consider alternative sources and if need be provide a link to the article. Because of their link policy (people are only allowed to view a limited number of NYT articles each month from a given computer), students may be unable to reach a linked article depending on their browsing habits. So you will want to provide guidance in your materials about this issue. This could include pointing out how students could work within the constraints (access the readings at the beginning of the month, or from a computer that has not used it is quota), several of the inexpensive ($0.99) short-term academic subscription options, and the various local institutional options they may have (their library may subscribe or be able to provide access through local online or paper reserves systems).

When in Doubt Ask

If you are not absolutely sure about the copyright situation around particular material or how to document it please ask the GETSI Project Manager. We are counting on all the authors within GETSI to ensure that we have accurate information about the rights of all the materials in our site.

Getting Permission

If you choose to try to get permission from the copyright holder you will first want to investigate their website for any information they have related to copyright and reuse. Oftentimes, bigger organizations will have existing mechanisms or contacts for requesting permission for reuse. Many commercial organizations will expect you to pay for reuse which, in almost all cases, is impractical for GETSI. Here is is generic form letter you can start with in requesting permission to reuse material within your module.

If you obtain permission for a resource (e.g. you get an email response from a request) you will need to record the nature of the permission in the provenance/reuse fields associated with the file. Also, forward a copy of the email to the GETSI Project Manager so that we can keep it on file.

While getting permission in the form of our standard Creative Commons license is ideal (as it makes things consistent for our users) any permission which makes it clear that GETSI is allowed to post the materials and that all GETSI users can use the materials freely is sufficient. There are, for example, a variety of different Creative Commons licenses all of which are perfectly reasonable for GETSI use. If a copyright owner is willing to give permission for use of the their material with different terms and you are not sure if the terms are appropriate please ask your support people.

Documenting Permissions

In addition to obtaining appropriate permissions it is critical that you document this information in the Serckit so others can benefit from your work. With each file you upload you will need to fill out the provenance and reuse information accurately. You can see a summary of this information for all the files available in a given page within the footer. This information will be reviewed for completeness before your module is published. You can revise this information on the file update page which is linked to from the toolbar in the editing interface.

What about files with multiple parts Like PowerPoint presentations?

If you have a file with pieces from multiple sources, such as a PowerPoint with a number of images, you should document the details with the presentation itself, either on each slide or a separate slide at the end of the presentation. For example:

Slide 1: Image of cow from Image in the public domain
Slide 2: Graph of cheese production courtesy of the CIA, Reuse is permitted under a creative commons BY-NC license.

Then in the provenance/reuse fields for the file as a whole you can give credit both to yourself (for the overall compilation) and also point people to the detailed information within the presentation:

Overall presentation developed by Bob Smith and distributed under a creative commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. Attribution and reuse information about the individual elements within the file available the "Notes" sections of each slide.

Use of GETSI Materials

All materials developed through GETSI will be made freely available through the GETSI website under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike license. Faculty will be able to freely and flexibly adopt or adapt the materials to their classroom. Additionally, the GETSI program has a need to find funding sources that will ensure the long-term sustainability of the program so that the materials are kept up to date and grow in response to community needs. Toward that end, the program may explore options including commercial partnerships where GETSI materials could be included as part of products for sale (e.g. textbooks, lab manuals). Proceeds from these partnerships would be used to support the continuation of the GETSI program and its goal of making the material freely available to a wide audience.