UNIVERSITIES keen to sign up to a massive open online course, or MOOC, may face serious copyright restrictions that the sector is only now starting to grapple with.
Under copyright law, the millions of dollars worth of third-party content that universities have paid licences for may only be able to be supplied to formally enrolled students. That would likely exclude students signing up for a free course on a MOOC.
"This is a big deal if you want to do more than provide some of the university's content on the open web for nothing. If you want to go beyond your university's own content then that is a much more complex issue," said Derek Whitehead, director of information resources at Swinburne University and chair of the copyright advisory committee at the Council of Australian University Librarians.
Universities spend about $200 million a year on commercially licensed content and pay almost $30m annually to the Copyright Agency Limited for the statutory licence in the Copyright Act. But this content is behind what Mr Whitehead calls the "walled garden"; it can only be used within the university for enrolled students. If a university wanted to put third-party content into a MOOC, it might have to seek and pay for a separate licence.