I want to make sure that the OER I create are used only for truly educational purposes. That means I should limit my works to “educational use only,” right?

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It depends. If you are interested in sharing your OER with a wide global audience, then this restriction could cause more harm than good. Sites often specify that resources can be used “for educational use”, “for educational purposes”, or “in an educational setting”. Variations thereof include the additional caveat “for educational….only”. All of these constraints are confusing because the term “educational” is itself inherently unclear. What does “educational” mean exactly? When you think about it, most anything can be construed as educational. One possibility is that the copyright holder meant to limit the work to classroom use. With the more restrictive caveat of “only”, users may assume the most closed interpretation and think that they can only use the work in the classroom. They may be led to believe that they cannot share the work with their peers on the Internet, nor derive it for research or a publication. Confusion causes doubt, and when in doubt, people decide to use your material at all, but seek out resources that are more clearly open. To illustrate, consider the following examples.

Example 1: A graduate student of Theology and comes across old photographs of certain spiritual figures. She decides to make a collage out of these photographs and republish them in a study. This study is picked up by a publisher who wants to sell copies to colleges and universities. Is this still “educational” use?

Yes: Its main aim is to spread the knowledge that the Theology student gained and reinterpreted in a set form.

No: Selling copies, even to colleges and universities, is a commercial enterprise. Its main aim is to make a profit, not to educate. Use should be restricted to non-commercial activities only.

Example 2: 
A High School teacher shares a lesson plan online, specifying that its use for “educational purposes” only. A band decides to take the lesson plan and convert it into a song, reposting their performance on YouTube. Is this educational use?

Yes: The rock’s band rendition of the lesson plan is edifying, and an interesting twist to a conventional teaching method.

No: The rock band’s use of the material is for entertainment purposes. At worst, they are making fun of education.

Example 3: A filmmaker makes a video about the constitution. He posts it on his site, stating that it should only be played publicly in “educational settings”; otherwise, he requires payment for its broadcast. A nonprofit researching the Constitution decides to broadcast it at a conference to show people the different kinds of media being made about the Constitution. Is this an “educational setting”?

Yes: The purpose of showing the film is to edify its audience; therefore, the setting is educational. No: By “educational setting”, the filmmaker obviously meant the classroom or some other formal institutional setting.

As you can see from the above examples, there are many ways to construe the term “educational”. Therefore, making your own custom license, and specifying terms like “educational”, only complicates existing copyright. Especially since “all rights reserved” (ARR) copyright already provides exceptions for certain educational uses. Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act (the “Act”) defines fair use, and Sections 108-122 include the bulk of the other exceptions and limitations on the reach of copyright protection in the US. Some of these exceptions pertain to certain educational uses, but even here there is no black and white answer as to what is or is not educational, since the term is not defined in that Act. But because fair use exceptions already address educational use, adding the term yourself is unnecessary, not to mention confusing. 
In brief, the lack of clarity is evident with the term “educational”. Without one universal definition on which everyone agrees—a consensus that is unlikely to be reached in this internet age of learners and thinkers—additional terms such as “educational” only serve to confuse and not to clarify.

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