Sharing Course Notes and Study Materials Online

Before uploading course notes and study materials online, it is important for students to read terms of use, particularly regarding copyright.

Image for Post

The internet offers unparalleled opportunities for us to share content we have created ourselves and to gain access to the content others have created and shared. For university students, the opportunity to share their course notes online and to access the notes of other students has led to the development of repositories, such as Course Hero and OneClass, to assist with studying and exam preparation. However, before uploading any materials to these sites, it is important for students to read their terms of use, particularly regarding copyright.

Sites like Course Hero and OneClass provide an incentive to students to upload materials: usually credits to gain free or reduced-cost premium access to the study materials on the site. Although these sites may be a good source of general information about the subject matter of courses, they are also used in a more targeted way. Students who upload materials associate those materials with specific courses at specific universities. As of January 2018, the “University of Alberta” entry on Course Hero lists over 28,000 documents that students from a broad range of programs have uploaded and associated with U of A courses.

Unfortunately, some of the content that students have shared on these sites has not been limited to their own personal notes, but has also included handouts and other materials related to the course that the course instructor prepared and distributed to students.

The terms and conditions regarding uploading materials to these sites are unequivocal. Course Hero makes it clear that they do not want unauthorized content on their site, and Course Hero’s Terms of Use explicitly state that users may only upload content they have the right to upload. It is also made clear that those uploading materials must own the copyright to all files uploaded, or have express permission from the copyright owner to upload those files.

So how is it that students are uploading instructors’ materials to these sites against those instructors’ wishes? For the most part, such instances are likely the result of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Students are invited by these sites to upload the content they have the right to upload, but students might not be entirely clear about the rights involved. Furthermore, how many of us actually carefully read all the terms of use of the websites with which we engage?

In short, my messages are as follows:

Message to Students: Don’t assume that any of the materials that the instructor has prepared for and made available to the students in a particular course can be shared with anyone else unless the instructor makes it explicit how the materials can be appropriately shared. Not all instructors deal with their materials in the same way: just because certain instructors are fine with their materials being shared does not mean that others will be. If you are in doubt about whether or how material provided by an instructor can be shared, ask that instructor.

Message to Instructors: The original materials that you have prepared for and made available to the students in your courses are, in most cases, your intellectual property. Not all instructors deal with their materials the same way. If it is important to you that some or all of your materials not be shared, make that clear to your students. If students are free to share any or all of your materials with others, let your students know, and if there are limitations, make those limitations clear. . This would also apply to any representative evaluative course material you make available to your students in accordance with the UAPPOL Assessment and Grading Policy. Putting a statement on the materials themselves regarding how and whether the materials can be shared is useful, but calling attention to the limitations may be just as important.

By making fewer assumptions and by issuing more explicit statements around the rights in and sharing of instructors’ materials, students and instructors together can become and remain clearer on the status of original course content and what can and cannot be freely shared. This should reduce the amount of problematic sharing of instructors’ course materials on study sites and otherwise.

Where an instructor’s original materials have been improperly shared on one of these sites, there is a process for having specific identified material removed from the site for copyright infringement. For Course Hero, the relevant page is here, and for OneClass, it is here (see “Copyright Violation Claims”).

There are definite benefits from the growing culture of sharing and making resources open online, but an increasing number of open resources can lead to more confusion generally about what students can do with the different resources they encounter. That makes it even more important for creators to clearly state how their works may and may not be used and for users to pay close attention to those terms of use.

For additional information about copyright at the University of Alberta, check out the Copyright Office website, or email our help desk at

Image for Post

Adrian Sheppard — Director, Copyright Office

Adrian has been the Director of the University of Alberta’s Copyright Office since April 2015. One role of the Copyright Office is to educate and inform U of A students, faculty and staff on issues related to copyright. Adrian has an LL.B. from the University of Victoria.

Note: This post is intended to provide information and perspective about copyright issues, but should not be considered as legal advice.