What do FutureLearn’s Terms and Conditions say about open content?

ETA If you want to review yesterday’s twitter discussion about FutureLearn’s Terms and Conditions, Martin Hawksey has now set up one of his fabulous TAGSExplorer twitter archives here.

The appearance of FutureLearn’s new website caused considerable discussion on twitter this morning. Once everyone had got over the shock of the website’s eye-watering colour scheme, attention turned to FurtureLearn’s depressingly draconian Terms and Conditions, which were disected in forensic detail by several commentators who know more than a thing or two about licensing and open educational content. I’m not going to attempt to summarise all the legal issues, ambiguities and inconsistencies that others have spotted, but I do want to highlight what the Terms and Conditions say about educational content. You can read FutureLearn’s full Terms and Conditions here but the salient points to note in relation to content licensing are:

All FutureLearn’s content and Online Courses, are the property of FutureLearn and/or its affiliates or its or their licensors and are protected by copyright, patent and/or other proprietary intellectual property rights under the laws of England and other countries.

– Fair enough, I guess.

Users may not copy, sell, display, reproduce, publish, modify, create derivative works from, transfer, distribute or otherwise commercially exploit in any manner the FutureLearn Site, Online Courses, or any Content.

– If content can not be reproduced, modified or transferred then clearly it can not be reused, therefore it is not open.

Future Learn grants users access to their content under the term of the Creative Commons Attribution – No Derivatices – Non Commerical 3.0 licence.

– Again, use of the most restrictive Creative Commons licence means that FutureLearn content cannot be modified and reused in other contexts, therefore it is not open in any meaningful sense of the word.

Any content created by users and uploaded to FutureLearn will be owned by the user who retains the rights to their content, but by doing so, users grant FutureLearn “an irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such User Content on the FutureLearn Site and/or in the Online Courses or otherwise exploit the User Content, with the right to sublicense such rights (to multiple tiers), for any purpose (including for any commercial purpose).”

- Unless that content happens to be subtitles, captions or translations of FutureLearn content….

FutureLearn may on occasion ask users to produce subtitles and translations of content in which case the same rights apply, but, and it’s a big but, in the case of captions and translations “you agree that the licence granted to FutureLearn above shall be exclusive.”

So there you have it, FutureLearn content will not be open educational resources in any real sense. I can’t say I’m surprised by FutureLearn’s Terms and Conditions and the approach they have taken to licensing educational content, but I am more than a little disappointed. Many colleagues have commented previously that the relationship between MOOCs and OERs is problematic, now it seems to have hit the skids altogether. I suppose I have to acknowledge that FutureLearn press releases have never said anything about the actual content of their courses being open, but I did hope rather naively that as the Open University have been at the forefront of OER initiatives in the UK, FutureLearn would buck the trend and take a similarly enlightened approach to their content. For the record, the Open University licenses their OpenLearn content under the more permissive Creative Commons ‘Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike’ licence. You can see the OpenLearn Intellectual Property FAQ here.

As time passes, I can’t help thinking that the approaches to content licensing taken by the UKOER Programmes are starting to look increasingly radical… Anyone remember those heady days when universities were releasing their educational content under CC BY licence? Was it all just a dream?


The thorny issue of MOOCs and OER

Along with the news that GCU and the Scottish College Development Network are developing guidelines for the creation and use of open educational resources, another Scottish news item caught my attention this week. Finally, after weeks of speculation, it was announced that the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde will join the FutureLearn partnership alongside the University of St Andrews which had previously signed up. You can read the press release here.

I can’t claim to have read every press release issued by FutureLearn but it’s telling, though not remotely surprising, that for all their apparent commitment to:

“…free, open, online courses from leading UK universities…”
– FutureLearn Press Release

“…removing the barriers to education by making learning more accessible…”
– Simon Nelson, FutureLearn, CEO

“…opening access to our learning to students around the world…”
– Colin Grant, Associate Deputy Principal at the University of Strathclyde

FutureLearn doesn’t appear to make any mention of using, creating or disseminating open educational resources. Although it’s rather disappointing, I can’t say that it’s particularly surprising. I haven’t got any statistics, but anecdotally, it seems that very few xMOOCs use or provide access to open educational resources. The relationship between MOOCs and OERs is problematic at best and non existent at worst. As Amber Thomas memorably commented at the Cetis13 conference “it’s like MOOCs stole OER’s girlfriend.” Perhaps I am being overly pesimistic about FutureLearn’s commitment to openness, after all, the initiative is being led by the Open University, an institution that has unquestionably been at the forefront of OER developments in the UK.

Of course St Andrews, Glasgow and Strathclyde aren’t the first Scottish universities to join the MOOC movement, the University of Edinburgh has already delivered six successful MOOCs in partnership with Coursera, including the eLearning and Digital Culture MOOC (#edcmooc) which my Cetis colleague Sheila MacNeill participated in and has blogged about extensively. Sheila recently presented about her experiences of being a MOOC student a the University of Southampton’s Digital Literacies Conference alongside #edcmooc tutor, and former CAPLE colleague, Dr Christine Sinclair, now with the University of Edinburgh. I wasn’t able to attend the event myself but I followed the tweet stream and was interested to note Sheila’s comments that the Edinburgh MSc module on digital cultures in more “open” than the Coursera MOOC on the same topic.


It didn’t take much googling to locate the eLearning and Digital Cultures MSc course blog which, sure enough, carries a CC-BY-NC-SA licence. I don’t know if this licence covers all the course materials but it certainly appears to be more open than the Coursera version of the same course and it’s very encouraging to see that the Edinburgh course tutors are continuing to support open access to their course materials at the same time as engaging with MOOCs. I wonder if the Scottish FutureLearn partners will show a similar commitment to opening access to their educational resources? I certainly hope so.