To gain extra credit for a course I lead, students can share their notes from a lecture which we intend to use as starting point to develop a better (free) learning material than just sharing slides from the lectures. To this end we explicitly asked the students to share their notes under a Creative Commons license.

At this point I have second thoughts whether this is completely OK ethically/legally. I would intuitively think that requiring students to waive some of their rights as authors would be problematic if the assignment was necessary to complete the course. Doing so for optional extra credit (which then lowers their point limit for the final exam) seems less problematic, but I am not sure this is actually a good enough distinction. Thanks for any notes/feedback.

I should also note that using student's work to build educational material is likely already allowed due to our country's laws (Czechia, EU) on intellectual property where work created to obtain academic credentials is explicitly allowed to be be "used by the academic institution for its internal needs and for educational purposes", no permission from the author required. CC licensing is still a step further, though.

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    While I am a big proponent of CC-licenses, you should in any case think about offering an alternative, in particular one that does not require attribution. Learning from mistakes is a very important thing, but if you want to use a student's answer to show how something is not done, then it might not be the best idea to do so under a license that requires you to identify the author by name every time you mention it.
    – mlk
    Dec 13, 2022 at 10:25
  • @mlk: Under version 4 of the CC licenses, the author can not only waive attribution, but can affirmatively demand that attribution be removed, even if the work has not been modified. Licensees are required to comply with such a demand or they forfeit the right to use the work at all.
    – Kevin
    Dec 13, 2022 at 21:09
  • It’s definitely not okay (as you yourself concluded) to require students to waive legal rights as a necessary element of the course grade. Extra credit is a bit more of a gray area, but I’d still tend to think it’s not a great idea. See this earlier discussion.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 16, 2022 at 4:38

3 Answers 3


You should definitely consult a corporate lawyer at your academic institution for a definitive answer, but I will offer my thoughts.

First, the excerpt that you quoted does not seem to apply to the situation that you are asking about: "work created to obtain academic credentials is explicitly allowed to be 'used by the academic institution for its internal needs and for educational purposes'". Licensing work under Creative Commons goes far beyond internal use.

Second, I do not think students should ever be forced to give up their copyright or the freedom to exercise their copyright. (Licensing under Creative Commons would mean that the students forego their freedom to exercise some of their copyright privileges.) Offering extra credit is not directly forcing the students but it is definitely pressuring them by compelling them to forego some of their rights in exchange for free credit. I would consider this unethical.

For some background, I am on my institution's research ethics board, and we would definitely not permit a similar situation in a research context. Even though your situation is not a research context, it is similar in that students are being offered extra credit for something which they might otherwise consider to not be in their best interest.

My institution's research ethics board takes a creative approach to research ethics, by which I mean that we try our best to help researchers to design ethical research rather simply saying no to proposals. Along those lines, here is my proposal for something that might work better:

I propose that you offer extra credit to all students who are willing to share their notes and you let the matter of Creative Commons licensing be completely optional. For students who decline the Creative Commons license, you give them the credit but do not incorporate their work in what is publicly shared with the rest. However, you should take the time to educate the students on the benefits of such licensing. In particular, highlight that Creative Commons licensing requires people to cite the work when used, and so this would give the students visibility and appreciation. (However, you must be responsible to also inform them of the implications of the irrevocable release of their work.) If you do this, you would probably find that most students would willingly choose the Creative Commons license.

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    Greatly appreciated. Agree that the law does not allow me to assume CC license or anything like it, edited the question to make it obvious that this is not the point of the question. I am quite sure I could share the notes with other students even if not CC licensed (still, explicitly asking is reasonable). Dec 13, 2022 at 10:32

The operative word for me is "ask". To my mind, there's nothing wrong with asking students to do this. But I agree that tying grades to this request is problematic. This no longer makes it a free choice. And presumably part of the point of this exercise is to encourage students in future to share their work freely for the benefit of others. This point is in my opinion, somewhat undermined if they feel coerced to do it in order to get a better grade.

In my opinion, a better way of doing this would be that the extra credit is only tied to sharing the notes with you. You can attach to this a request to licence the notes under CC but the grade should not be dependent on that. I suspect most students will happily do so.

  • Thanks for the feedback! To clarify and broaden the applicability of the answer: would you apply the same reasoning for extra credit that is tied to making a contribution to Wiki/open source project/...? One varaint we considered was to tie the points to people sharing the notes on a local country-wide wiki-like server for lecture notes, but then decided to keep more options open... Dec 13, 2022 at 12:07
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    @MartinModrák I think this may also be a bad idea without proper consideration. Aside from the ethical issues already raised, Wikipedia has guidance about such assignments en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Student_assignments . There is a perverse incentive when exchanging edits for marks which can lead students doing more harm than good. Same will apply to eg open source projects. So again, I'd advise the assignment should have the option of adding to wikipedia, but base marks on a version which doesn't need to be licenced as CC.
    – MJeffryes
    Dec 13, 2022 at 12:45

Your question essentially amounts to: "is it ok to sell extra credit to students?" You are offering them marks if they give you something with intrinsic value: the rights to use their notes.

It is probably the case that the monetary value involved is very low, but the principle remains. Would you have problems giving extra credit to students in exchange for buying a coffee and delivering it to your office? Or to those who paid you €5?

Edited to add: Discussion in the comments led me to appreciate something that I think is important here. The proposed 'extra credit' task here (publish your notes with a given license) has minimal educational value for the student concerned. This is in marked contrast to alternatives such as "write a Wikipedia article" or "contribute to an open-source software project", where concrete learning outcomes can be identified: e.g. consolidation of knowledge, communication skills, coding experience, etc. In those cases, extra credit is (or at least can be argued to be) given for demonstrating the ability to apply knowledge in 'the real world'. In the OP's case, the credit is simply offered as an inducement to act in a certain way.

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    Are you sure this is a good reference class? Consider a different scenario: giving extra credit for writing a Wikipedia article or contributing to an existing open source projects. I'd think that would be quite OK. My use case IMHO lies between "giving credits for valueable" and the Wiki/Github case, but is IMHO closer to the latter (though as others have argued my use is still likely problematic in a way asking for Wiki/Github contribution isn't). Dec 13, 2022 at 12:04
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    @MartinModrák I think there is a distinction: Wikipedia/Github are well-established as resources used by the worldwide community, and any benefit to the instructor is very marginal. Moreover, there is clear educational value to the student in (e.g.) gaining experience as an open-source contributor. In your case there seems to be little educational benefit associated with the extra credit (unless you are arguing it encourages them to take better notes), but the instructor "gets out of" doing the work required to prepare good course materials.
    – avid
    Dec 13, 2022 at 12:28
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    @MartinModrák I think it's also relevant that with Wiki/Github students can understand how their work will be used before deciding whether they want to participate. However, as I understand it you want to use their notes to build something new.
    – avid
    Dec 13, 2022 at 12:34
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    Mostly agree. The reason why I think the comparison to wiki is relevant is that contributing the lecture notes to local country-wide wiki-like site for lecture notes is an explicitly encouraged option to fulfill the requirements for extra credit. The site enforces a CC license. So I don't think I can be making the situation substantially worse from an ethical point of view by also allowing students to just send the notes to me by email. Dec 13, 2022 at 12:45
  • The principle is the same for wiki articles etc. The TA is getting something he values and giving extra marks for it. That something is outside the course work and outside the usual method of evaluating performance in the class. Whether it's a coffee or a donation to the Home for Indignant Cats does not change the principle.
    – Boba Fit
    Dec 13, 2022 at 14:07

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