What is an Artifact Exception?

What is an Artifact Exception?

The primary objects of study in a college course are often a principle, theory, equation, causal relationship, definition, model, or other idea. While one particular way of expressing these ideas can be copyrighted, the ideas themselves cannot be copyrighted. This is why hundreds of copyrighted textbooks can all explain how to factor polynomials, the relationship between supply and demand, the fall of the Roman empire, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the if-then structures of computer programs without violating each other’s copyright. The underlying ideas cannot be copyrighted—only a specific way of expressing the ideas can be protected. As long as each textbook expresses these ideas in its own unique way, there is no copyright violation. This is why OER can also cover the same principles, theories, etc. that are covered in commercial textbooks. Ideas cannot be copyrighted, only specific expressions can be copyrighted.

Sometimes, however, the objects of study in a college course are not ideas that can be expressed in many ways. Sometimes the object of study is itself a specific expression—like a particular painting by Jackson Pollock or a specific score by Dmitri Shostakovich. In these cases, there is no meaningful way to create an "equivalent" expression to use instead—there can be no open source substitute for the Mona Lisa, for example. While the educational resources that "wrap around" the artifact that is the object of study (like descriptions of historical context or discussion prompts) can always be OER, the artifact itself may or may not be an OER.

If your course includes these kind of copyrighted creative works that need to be included as core learning materials (and not just optional supplemental materials), click "Next" below to begin the process of requesting an Artifact Exception.

(Note that research articles and other expository materials typically do not qualify for the Artifact Exception because their main ideas can be summarized and explained in OER. After this summary has been created, OER Degree Initiative courses can provide Supplementary Links to a copy of the article if it is freely and legally available online.)