I want to make sure that my OER are only for personal use. I should restrict my OER to “personal use” only, right?

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You are free to do this, but you should consider the potential confusion this may cause for your users. The term “personal” can be construed in a variety of ways. Does personal use limit me to simply viewing the resource online by myself? Am I only allowed to download one copy, for myself, personally? Or can I distribute a “few” copies to my personal friends? Are my coworkers considered part of my personal circle? Consider the following examples.

Example 1: A graduate student of Theology makes her study available online for personal use only. A professor at another college finds the study and prints out copies for himself and his colleagues. Is this still “personal” use?

Yes: The professor is using the study for himself and his inner circle of colleagues. There is no public resharing of the material online.

No: The professor is not allowed to distribute copies to others. His other colleagues must go directly to the site to obtain the same information.

Example 2: A High School teacher shares a lesson plan online, specifying that its use for “personal use” only. A band decides to take the lesson plan and convert it into a song, and they later upload their performance to YouTube, citing the teacher as the author of the non-musical content. Is this personal use?

Yes: The band’s musical endeavor is personal; they wanted to make a musical composition based on writing and they did it. They also cited the teacher so she would get credit. What’s the problem?

No: Personal use dictates that they should have stopped at making the song, or asked the teacher for permission to share it. They are not allowed to share what they did because that immediately makes it public and impersonal.

Example 3: A filmmaker posts his video on the Constitution on his site, specifying free “personal” uses only; he requires payment for any other use. A government teacher decides to show it to her class. Is this personal use?

Yes: The class is within the bounds of the teacher’s personal life.

No: The classroom is a public setting.

As you can see, the potential conclusions drawn from the above examples are conflicting. Personal use, understood in certain ways, is even more restrictive than the standard exceptions and limitations granted to “all rights reserved” (“ARR”) copyrighted works. ARR copyright allows for more than personal use via fair use and educational exceptions, which allows uses for a variety of purposes, including news reporting, criticism, satire, and research. Therefore, if you restrict your OER to “personal use”, you are giving your users even less freedom than they would have under standard copyright. And that would mean that your educational resources are far from “open.”

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