Case study: Question 1

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Case study summary

Developing an online course for Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Theresa Brown, an English literature educator, is developing an online course on Hamlet by William Shakespeare. The course will be delivered using the learning management system (LMS) hosted by her education institution. Registered students are provided with password access for the LMS. A number of students do not have affordable access to the internet at home, so Theresa wants to include copies of resources in the LMS so they can be accessed through the institution's local network. She plans to include the following resources:
  1. The full text of Hamlet edited by Charles Kean who died in 1868.
  2. An image of the portrait of Hamlet, by William Morris Hunt (1824 - 1879) housed by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
  3. A digital copy of the Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare recently discovered in March 2009. (See press release by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.)
  4. A copy of the BBC video providing an overview of the major themes of the play.
  5. Theresa has compiled a slide show with an audio summary which she will host on Slideshare. Her slide show was based on her own original research work drawing extensively on her article published in the Australian Humanities Review, an open access journal.


We suggest you write down your answers so you can check these against the self-assessment activities which follow. In each case, you should identify:

  • whether the resources are protected by copyright;
  • who owns the copyright; and
  • in your opinion, can Theresa include copies of these materials in her course without consent or permission from the copyright holder.

This case study was inspired by ideas in the Copyright 4 Educators (ZA) course. Note that for the purposes of this case study, Theresa is a fictitious character and has not published in the Australian Humanities Review.

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Who owns the copyright of the Kean's edition of Hamlet?

Fill in blanks. Use your cursor or "tab" key to advance to the next answer.
  • This edited version of Hamlet by Charles Kean is a literary work.
  • Literary works are protected by copyright.
  • The copyright of this edited work would ordinarily belong to Charles Kean.
  • However, in this instance, the copyright has expired and this work has entered the public domain.
  • In most countries, the term for the copyright of individuals extends for the life of the author plus a minimum of 50 years or in the case of the United States of America and the European Union Member States, the author's lifetime plus 70 years.
  • Note that the original verbatim text of Hamlet by William Shakespeare is in the public domain. Copyright protects the expression of ideas, which means that the layout and style of newer editions of Hamlet may still be under copyright.

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Permissions to reuse the Kean's edition of Hamlet
  • Can Theresa include a verbatim copy of the full text of Hamlet edited by Keans?
    • Yes
      • Correct. As the copyright of this work has expired and is in the public domain, Theresa can include the full text without restriction.
    • No
      • Incorrect. As this work is in the public domain, there are no restrictions on making a full copy of the text.
  • Should Theresa reference or attribute Charles Kean in her course materials.
    • Yes
      • Recommended. Ethical practice would suggest that Theresa should attribute her source. However, the legal position is not clear cut. The attribution requirement stems from moral rights and attribution is not necessarily a legal requirement of the public domain. The duration of moral rights is unclear. Some say that moral rights expire on the death of the author, others argue that they continue as long as the copyright holds and a few suggest that moral rights should hold indefinitely.
    • No
      • Not recommended. While there is no legal attribution requirement for works released in the public domain from a copyright perspective, it is important to note that the works cannot legally be removed from the public domain by asserting copyright ownership of these works after they have entered the public domain. This could be considered copyright fraud.