Xerte in Health Psychology 6 – Copyright

Copyright issues.

In this update to our HEA Digital Literacies in the Disciplines project I reflect on the problems we encountered with copyright infringement, which has made nearly all our learning objects unusable as OERs  until we can ‘sanitize’ them.

Next time we run this Health Psychology module we will certainly need to provide greater guidance and more examples to students about what can and cannot be included in their projects.  We thought we had done this in the morning we set aside to introducing the project and Xerte back in September. This session was led by Ron Mitchell from Mitchell Media who hosts our Moodle.  I remember him talking about Creative Commons licences and demonstrating Xpert in that session and although some students used Xpert, many did not and many failed to understand the difference between academic referencing and copyright.

I think the message was really lost in Ron’s session as he covered so much in one go.  It might be better to have a number of discrete input sessions at the beginning with one being about copyright.

Academic Referencing vs. Copyright.

Many students thought that if they referenced an image they could use. Others thought that if something was ‘on the web’ it was freely available, in the public domain and anyone could use it.

We will have to ensure that the next cohort of students understands that while they might be penalised by our university for plagiarism,  it is not in fact a crime, whereas infringing copyright is and the inclusion of copyrighted material for which they do not have permission stops us their learning objects as OERs.

Two good articles which explain the difference and how it works in an academic context are:

The position of the reference or the attribution.

The positioning on the Xerte page of the reference or attribution also seems to me to be an issue worth thinking about and I would value others’ opinions.

In academic writing we are used to seeing in-text references and footnotes  and they do not affect the readability of the text.  In fact their omission might cause us to stumble in our reading as we momentarily halt to question the authority of what we are reading. In the Xerte pages of our project many students included academic references and these seemed quite at home as the learning objects were aimed at professional counsellors  and not the general public. However, for a different audience  it would be better not to quote and not to reference in the interests of keeping the pages uncluttered.

Text and links used to legally justify the inclusion of copyrighted media, by pointing to the permissions granted, often proved distracting, especially when there were hyperlinks to web pages that took the user away from the Xerte leaning object.  Having looked at lots of these completed learning objects I am inclined to have a page at the end where attributions are listed. What do others think?

Use of Xpert.

I have mixed feelings about how Xpert inserts the Creative Commons licence attribution on the image. Sometimes the students stretched images making the licence unreadable and other times the image was too small to read the licence. Here’s an example:

Xerte page with Xpert derived CC images.

Here we can see a Xerte page with four Xpert-derived Creative Commons images. The licence information in the three smaller images is too small to read and in the background image the licence information is unnecessarily large and distracting.

Even when we magnify the page, the way the image is inserted stops us reading the licence and indeed some images, even at original size, do not display a readable licence.

Image of beer glasses that includes a CC permission statement that is too small to read

I think it is probably better to ask students to add the attribution themselves, as a small link under the image or as a link in the ALT tab.


Another issue was the use of videos from youtube. I think there are two main problems.

One is that students misunderstand the concept of “public domain” and think that anything on youtube is “in the public domain” and can be used.  We need to point out that videos might have been illegally uploaded to youtube and even if they are legally uploaded you do not automatically have the right to embed them onto your website.

The second issue is that students embedded videos into their Xerte objects without considering the source. Sometimes it is clear that the video was  intended to be disseminated (e.g. Public health videos by the Home Office) but the students used a copy from a secondary source which is less likely to be as permanent and f the video is taken down the student’s precious learning object will break.

An easy solution.

Most of the copyright infringements that I have seen so far could have been avoided had the students created their own images and videos. Being aware of Creative Commons materials is certainly important and an aspect of digital literacy that we do not want to lose, but I was surprised at how few images and videos were actually produced by the students. The three images shown above could easily  have been created anew in a short space of time simply with a smartphone camera.

Further Analysis and Sanitation.

What we are doing now is having a member of the e-learning team replacing ‘dodgy’ content with her own or Creative Commons media. In a way it seems daft that we are doing this, but the students have finished the module and been assessed, so it is a little late in the day to ask them to do this. As we are doing this work we will keep a record of the changes we have had to make so that we can show the next cohort what not to do.

What we have learnt.

  1. I think we need to be much clearer in our assessment criteria.  This was written by the academics who themselves probably did not have much experience of producing learning objects.  Academic papers, yes, but OERs no.
  2. We need to ensure that students know they do not need to use all the tools in the Xerte toolkit to ensure a high score (see my previous post).
  3. We need to encourage students to produce their own images and video and provide technical guidance.
  4. We need to encourage the use Creative Commons materials.
  5. We need to penalise students for copyright infringement.
  6. We need to ensure that students understand that they are producing an OER and all that that means. (I think we mentioned it at the beginning but am not sure how many students really understood it or remembered).

Focus Groups.

We have some focus groups planned in which we will explore these and other issues with the students and will report back via this blog.


  1. Niall · · Reply

    I always understood that the copyright implication of embedding a YouTube video were the same as for linking.. i.e. since you don’t copy of the movie there are no copyright implications. Could be wrong though! Also, since YouTube actually supply the embed code there seems to be implicit permission to embed.

    Broken links are an ever-present risk on the web … which can be reduced but not avoided entirely.

    1. Thanks for your comment Niall.
      You got me thinking about curating sites such as pinterest and scoopit which encourage you to create your own page and populate it with images you find on the web. If this is legal then it’s surely OK for our students to use any images they want in the Xerte projects. Maybe they should link to them rather than download and re-upload them, but using them is OK. However, I discover this is not OK (though who is policing it?). Here is what JISC Legal has to say on the matter in Pinterest, Image Sharing Websites and the Law.

      Can students or staff pin images they have found on the internet in Pinterest or share such images on other social networks?

      To avoid copyright infringement staff and students should only pin images in Pinterest which are out of copyright or which they own or have permission or a licence from the rightsholder to pin. Pinning an image involves copying and making a copyright work available to the public both of which are acts restricted to the copyright owner by virtue of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).

      There are no applicable copyright exceptions which would apply to pinning an image on a publicly accessible website. ‘Fair use’ often quoted as a defence to copyright infringement where copyright works are shared for non-commercial purposes is a US concept which does not apply in the UK. None of the more limited copyright exceptions available in the UK regime are likely to apply. Fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review (s 36 CDPA) for example is unlikely to apply to pinning an image in its entirety to a publicly accessible virtual pinboard.

      So I would think that if you are not supposed to pin an image to pinterest, you most certainly are not supposed to use it on your website.

  2. Niall · · Reply

    Bob. Thanks. Interesting. I think we need to be aware of T&Cs of all such sites.

    YouTube seems ok according to JISC legal http://bit.ly/1lggd0a

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