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Within the above context, open content licences1 have emerged in an effort to protect authors’ rights in environments where content (particularly when digitized) can easily be copied and shared on the Internet without permission. Open licences seek to ensure that copying and sharing happens within a structured legal framework that is more flexible than the automatic all-rights reserved status of copyright. OER are part of this process, and allow for more flexibility in the use, re-use, and adaptation of materials, for local contexts and learning environments, while allowing authors to have their work acknowledged.

Many advocates of OER say that a key benefit of open content is that it is ‘free’, but this is only true for the end-user. Open content can be shared with others without asking permission and without paying licence or other access fees. However, some important cost considerations must be taken into account. Taking effective advantage of OER requires institutions to invest systematically in programme/course design and materials development and acquisition. Time needs to be invested in developing courses and materials, finding appropriate OER, adapting existing OER, and negotiating copyright licensing (if material is not openly licensed). There are also associated costs such as procurement and maintenance of ICT infrastructure (for authoring and content-sharing purposes) and bandwidth.

Educational institutions can make these investments as part of their processes of improving the quality of their teaching and learning. Peers can share materials and enrich the curriculum for students, while institutions using and adapting OER will find this a very cost-effective way to invest in materials design and development.


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