Curating content for learning: Is it legal?

27 March 2020 by Ben Betts

We are content-rich; it’s piling up everywhere, both inside and outside of our organizations. Making use of abundant content in the world would seem like a good way to develop our online learning experiences.

We spend so much money creating content, wouldn’t we be better to just curate? But is it legal? 

Here’s the good news: thanks to the world of hypertext (e.g. linking) you can curate your content whilst remaining entirely legal. Even if you’re selling the experience. But you will need to take some active decisions along the way to remain on the right side of the law.


The ‘Golden Rule’ of content curation

There is just one simple rule that will keep you on the right saw of all curation issues before we begin:

Never copy content, always link to it. 

The Internet was founded on the principle of linked content. It was always the intent that one piece of content would link to another. And as the base of content has grown, so has the need to aggregate and curate this content. There is real value in the curation process. Without curators, the sheer breadth of content available would become unmanageable.

You can sell your services as a curator without fear of reprisal. But curators don’t copy things; they don’t plagiarize. They add value by linking the right pieces of content together to give a better overall experience than the individual pieces would give on their own.

Take this further and build a social learning experience around curated content and you are on to a very valuable proposition.

Fair usage policies 

Having said this, there are occasions when it is inappropriate, or even illegal, to curate other people’s content. Most of us understand the concept of copyright; that an author retains the right to sell and distribute their original work until they elect to give it up (or the statute of limitations kicks in). But copyright is also governed by the principles of Fair Use.

Fair Use is a limitation on copyright which is recognized in most countries (although it varies from place to place). There are three basic considerations as to whether or not something is considered ‘fair use’:

  1. Is it factual or creative? Fair use is more likely to be applicable in cases where content is academic or technical. Creative works may not fit with your framing; you may be encouraging others to misconstrue a creative piece, more so than a technical fact.
  2. Is it a significant portion of the whole? Fair use is more likely to apply to small parts of content, rather than the whole. This is another reason why we encourage learning designers to make use of micro-content.
  3. Does it damage the market for the original? Will your use of it cost someone money? If so, it’s not fair. If, on the other hand, it might give them the opportunity to make more money, then it is entirely fair.

Presume you are not explicitly violating a copyright agreement and that you are adhering to the principles to fair use, you should be legally in a good position to curate material into a learning experience. But you do also carry a moral obligation, especially if you are going to make money from your curated experience. This is a bit stickier…

4 tips for keeping the moral high-ground when curating content for online learning 

To help you stay on the right side of your moral obligations, here are four tips for keeping the moral high ground when using curated material in your learning experiences:

  1. Ask permission from the original content owner – It’s always nice to get in touch with people and say you want to link to their content. Independent blog owners are usually delighted. Bigger sites won’t reply, but hey, you asked right?
  2. Check the copyright status of the material – Look for Open Educational Resources of Creative Commons licenses. Many people will explicitly say it is OK to link to their content using these methods. Check privacy statements and terms and conditions of websites, especially if you use is commercial in nature. Some may take this opportunity to prevent you from linking to their content.
  3. Don’t over-use a single source – You don’t want to appear as you’ve just copied a single person’s work. That is not curation. Spread the love and give a balanced view by using multiple sources.
  4. Identify the author and source where you can  – Call out where you got the content from, even if you are linking to it. I think this actually makes you look better. You aren’t pretending to be the sole expert, you are making people aware of a wider world and gaining credibility by leaning on other experts to make your point.

Go get curating! 

Follow those moral principles and I believe you’ll have no problem selling access to your curation community. The beauty of curation is that there is almost literally no limit on what you can use, as long as you adhere to the relevant copyright laws.

So – go forth and curate! What’s stopping you?

For content already developed, our new Future Skills Pack that comes as part of the Gold package for our LXP, Stream, contains hundreds of pieces of newly-created and expert-curated content to save you time and development.

Ben Betts
Chief Executive Officer

Ben serves as CEO for Learning Pool LTD, with responsibility for the commercial, product and people functions based mostly in the UK, reporting to the Group CEO.

Previously, Ben served as Chief Product Officer for Learning Pool where he worked to help define and develop Learning Pool’s next generation of workplace digital learning platforms, with a focus on Learning Experience Platforms and the Learning Analytics space.

Before Learning Pool, Ben helped to build HT2 Labs from humble beginnings into a globally recognized innovator in workplace digital learning.  Learning Pool completed an acquisition of HT2 Labs in June 2019.

Ben’s expertise is based in research, having previously completed his PhD researching the impact of gamification on adult social learning, Ben has authored and contributed chapters for many books, has two peer-reviewed academic papers and has presented at conferences around the world, including TEDx.

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