The Harvard Gazette recently published an excellent write-up on the complicated issues surrounding copyright and fair use in the MOOC environment.  Here’s a taste of the piece:

…the Copyright Act and its accompanying legal guidelines has long provided those in higher education with a right of exception, letting educators reproduce copyrighted works as long as the material does not exceed fair use and is, in recent decisions, “transformative to the educational experience.”

“The concept of ‘transformative fair use’ allows the use of copyrighted material in a manner, or for a purpose, that differs from the original use in such a way that the expression, meaning, or message is essentially new,” Courtney said.

Yet with drag-and-drop technologies and the ability to cut and paste entire books or images, there are an increasing number of caveats. Faculty members are not just grappling with the fair-use question by reinterpreting “transformative use” in their lectures, they are also pioneering new kinds of collaborations with publishers for their traditional syllabus materials. Moreover, the explosion of online learning, experimental by nature, has proven a natural breeding ground for such test cases.  Read more.

These are issues that were confronted a number of years ago in the OpenCourseWare community, and—through the leadership of MIT OpenCourseWare’s Intellectual Property Manager Lindsey Weeramuni and otherscode_large_7_july_11—resulted in the development of a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for OpenCourseWare, which has served the community well as a standard of shared practice in this domain.  The code is one of a number developed by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University.