Licenses for Open Educational resources

For a paper I am writing together with my colleague Ben Janssen, I have explored the sites of institutional members and consortium members of the Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC). The goal was to find out which licenses were used among those members. During this exploration, I came across several issues.


For each member, the site of the OCWC offers a link to the main website of that member. For those members who have provided this, also the direct link to the open courseware site is offered. When the latter was provided, I followed the link to the OCW-site and searched for information about the license. In the other case, I followed the link to the main website and from there tried to find the open courseware subsite. A lot of non English sites offered the possibility to get an English version. Where this functionality was not available I used the automatic translation offered by Google Chrome. To find the open courseware subsite I used the sitemap or (when this failed) searched on the keywords ocw or open courseware.


The results were somewhat surprising to me. I have looked at 197 sites of institutional members and 4 sites of consortium members. This was what I found:

  • 1 main site gives a 404 error (not found)
  • 7 OCW subsites give a 404 error
  • 1 site will be discontinued 1 May 2011
  • 3 sites are mirrors of MIT OCW (using a CC-BY-NC-SA license)
  • On 71 sites (!) the OCW subsite could not be found by me
  • 18 sites do not formulate the license
  • 2 sites use a self-formulated license text
  • 2 sites formulate a range of Creative Commons licenses (or closely related to those), dependant on the course
  • The remaining 97 sites use a Creative Commons license:
    • 4x CC-BY
    • 4x CC-BY-SA
    • 2x CC-BY-NC
    • 73x CC-BY-NC-SA
    • 14x CC-BY-NC-ND

Why are these results so surprising for me? Well, first I was not expecting so many OCW-sites that I was not able to find. Maybe I have used the wrong methods, but where in most cases offering open courseware should have a marketing effect, I would expect a link on the main page or in the main menu to the OCW subsite. The second surprising fact were the 18 sites where I could not find information about the license that is used. When reuse and remix of the open courseware is one of the goals OCWC is striving at, information about the license is crucial for that purpose. The third surprising fact were the 14 sites using a CC-BY-NC-ND license. I was not expecting this high number. I am curious to know about the motivations for this choice.
Some other remarks about this exploration:

  • There were 4 sites from consortium members representing institutional members. Two of them (Universia and Japan OCWC) formulate a CC-BY-NC-SA license on their site. It is remarkable that not all members of these consortia use the same license for their OCW-site.
  • One site offers courses with a CC-BY-SA license, but some of the courses were not licensed at all.

I was not surprised though by the low number of sites using a license without the NC clause. Actually, that finding will be part of the paper I am writing with Ben Janssen and was the main reason I did this exploration. I expect to be able to blog on this in several weeks.

Posted in Open Educational Resources and tagged , .

One Comment

  1. Robert, this is interesting data. Thank you for sharing it with us. I have a comment regarding the use of the NC clause. I have been climbing a steep learning curve about OCW. At the initial design steps of our OCW initiative, choosing a license including non-commercial provisions seemed obvious. Yet, now a few months later, I am beginning to see how restrictive this provision can be.
    I’m not sure how to operationalize this distinction but it would be helpful to have non-commercialization defined more precisely. Here in the US we have non-profit and for-profit organizations both are involved in commercial activities. Universities are (with a few exceptions) non-profit organizations while corporations are for-profit. I’m sure there’s a comparable difference world-wide.
    As a creator, non-commercialization is appealing because I don’t want a for-profit entity to take the content of my instructional design, package it and sell it for profit. Yet, I do want my colleague who is a first-time sign language interpreting mentor to have access to my educational materials. The mentor will be paid a modest sum for their efforts. That shouldn’t preclude access to my materials.
    In the absence of a license that allows for this kind of nuance, the safe approach seems to be going for the NC provision. Yet, by its nature the provision is thwarting the kind of application I envision for my work. Interesting dilemma.

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