In our work with VIPEr we have discovered the significant impact of intellectual property (IP) law on posting educational materials online. This page is our effort to help you understand the somewhat complex legal environment and how it affects your contributions to this site.  This document is by no means comprehensive and doesn't constitute legal advice. (We're not licensed for that (!), but we can help you find some safe ground). It is ultimately your responsibility to verify that you have the necessary legal rights to materials that you share here. There are further references and contacts below.

Protecting Your Work - the Creative Comments License
Creative Commons (CC) licensing provides a legal framework that you can use to give access to your work while still retaining appropriate control. For example, a common license says that a work can be used freely only for nonprofit purposes, and that your permission would still be necessary for profit-making uses.  When you submit an object to VIPEr you must pick a CC license from a short list. You'll probably use the same license for all objects you create, but you can use different licenses for different objects if you want to. Each license permits reuse for nonprofit activities—that's the minimum requirement necessary for posting to VIPEr.

The different kinds of licenses range from somewhat restrictive (Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives) to completely nonrestrictive (Public Domain). Creative Commons provides these pages to help you decide license makes the most sense for you:  

It is a good idea to include the licensing information in each document you upload.  We use this statement in our own contributions:

Created by [author, author affiliation, author email] and posted on VIPEr on [date/year], Copyright [name, year]. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons [name of license you choose] License. To view a copy of this license visit

Using the Work of Others - Copyright Issues

Submitting to an online resource and making material freely accessible to the world is legally very different from using the same material in your own class.  Most academics are used to thinking about things in terms of fair useWhat may be a straightforward example of fair use in the classroom may constitute copyright infringement on the web. In order to help you get a sense for what is and is not OK, we've put together a list of some of the things that you might have in your learning objects from your course materials and suggestions on how to include them in VIPEr in a responsible way. 

1.  PDFs of manuscripts.While pdf files of manuscripts are very tempting to include as attachments, these are generally copyrighted by the journal. Unless you are sure you have the legal right to share the article, you should instead include a link to the article. Many journal articles (and figures in them) can be referenced by their DOI (digital object identifier; you will generally see a link in the table of contents entry of a journal that begins with "doi"). We encourage you to include a link under "web resources" during the submission of your learning object. We provide a special field where you can just enter the identifier.

2.  Pictures, tables, schemes, or figures from manuscripts.
While this is still a no-no, there's a good chance that you can obtain permission to reproduce p
ictures, tables, schemes, or figures from manuscripts.  We know it is possible to do this because we certainly run across a number of these things that are reproduced with permission from...  To do so, you'll need to contact the publisher who owns the copyright and ask permission to reprint / republish the item of interest.  Because VIPEr is a non-commercial educational site, there's a good chance they'll let you reproduce the item of interest.  Make sure that you have written permission before you post something that is already under copyright.  After you have written permission, make sure that you acknowledge the publisher (i.e. reproduced with permission from [publisher]). We've provided the contact information for several major publishing houses in chemistry at the end of this document.  You can find an example of a letter to use when contacting a publisher here.

3. Text excerpts from manuscripts.  While it is OK to reference short quotes from a manuscript with an appropriate citation (in a problem for instance), longer text excerpts require permission. See #2.

4.  Supplemental materials from manuscripts. These can be linked using the DOI as well.  Most are linked through the abstract page of the manuscript. (See #1).

5.  CIF files.
With published manuscripts, CIF files are part of the the supplemental materials and can be linked using the DOI See #4. 

6.  Anything from a textbook. 
Again, you would need the permission of the publisher
(a la #2). While we'd say "give it a try," we're not sure that publishers will be as willing to let you reproduce material from a commercial textbook.

7.  Link to a resource.
To the best of our knowledge, there are no laws about linking to a resource on the publisher's site.  If someone hasn't paid for access, their server will prevent them from getting to the resource.  In the next iteration of VIPEr (VIPEr 2.0), we'll have a learning object where you can put a link in to your favorite website(s) and provide a brief description of its content and how you use it.

8.  Pictures that you've made.
If you've made it for your own use (not 'cut and pasted' or modified something that someone else made, but actually generated it), there isn't a problem.  Post away. If you modified something someone else put out under a Creative Commons license, be sure to cite the original appropriately (see Creative Commons above)

9.  View of a structure from crystallographic data.

We've spent hours discussing this one.  Yes, hours!  Here's where things get even grayer. 

Structure is at the heart of inorganic chemistry.  Every inorganic chemist that we know is excited by beautiful crystal structures.  We love to look at these things.  Looking at specific views of molecules or extended solids is incredibly valuable for showing particular information.  For example, it's a lot easier to see a symmetry element present in a molecule when it's lined up in a particular way or the connectivity in a metal organic framework in polyhedral notation when aligned along a particular axis.

As we understand it, publishing a data set that has already been published as a factual representation of crystalline matter, is not a breach of copyright; the generally accepted view is that molecular structures, as with any physical phenomenon, are outside the scope of intellectual property protection.  However, reproducing a figure from a journal without permission, such as an ORTEP, is a clear violation of copyright.

We'd like to walk you through a few examples to try and explain what works and what doesn't.  In these scenarios, the elements refer to VIPEr contributors, not the actual elements.  Assume that all of the learning objects will eventually be uploaded to VIPEr.

Scenario 1:  Hydrogen has a learning object in which he wants students to investigate structural elements of a molecule (bond lengths, bond angles, etc.) using a secondary program (e.g. Mercury or CrystalMaker).  He decides to attach the CIF that he obtained from an online journal to which he has access.
Solution:  As we pointed out in #5, Hydrogen may not post CIF files directly.  It is, however, okay to include information that is specific to the molecular structure.  Take the CIF and pull out everything that isn't needed to regenerate the structure, i.e. leave in just the space group, unit cell, and atom positions.

Scenario 2:  Helium has a learning object in which she wants to illustrate several symmetry elements in a molecule for her students.  She takes the structural information into a secondary program, manipulates the image to illustrate her point, then saves it as an image file (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, BMP, etc.).  She then imports these images into her learning object.
Solution:  Since the image is your own creation, it should not infringe on the author or publisher's copyright.  Don't forget to cite the source of the structural data!  You should always follow good citation practices.

Scenario 3:  Lithium wants to illustrate why a really large ligand, which appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of Really Cool Inorganic Chemistry, leaves open only a single coordination site.  He draws the structure in a structure drawing program (ChemDraw, GaussView, etc.), minimizes the structure for 3-D display, then converts it to CIF (or MOL, PDB, etc.) format so that his students can view and manipulate the structure.
Solution:  This isn't actual crystallographic data. Lithium just provided a representation of crystalline matter (connectivity).  He did not violate anyone's copyright.   As usual, don't forget the citation.  Personally, we hope to be able to publish our stuff in the Journal of Really Cool Inorganic Chemistry.  If you decide to start the journal, please drop us a line!

Scenario 4:  Beryllium has put together a bunch of neat questions on the extended structures of oxides, pnictides, and silicates.  She grabbed the structures from another online resource, saved them to her computer, and uploaded the structural files (CIF) to VIPEr with a learning object that contains her neat questions.
Solution:  Hmm.  In some cases it may be okay to upload the CIF, but our best guess is that if we say it is universally okay, we're going to have some problems.  Read the  guidelines about reproduction or replication that you find on the online resource very carefully and follow those.  Some resources provide CIFs that are open to the community and explicitly state the republication for education use is okay (Crystallography Open Database, MSA Crystal Structure DatabaseExtended Structures Library).  However, your best bet (and the one we like best unless you're creating a file with a specific structural view) is to provide a link the the resource and let others go there and grab it.  One stop shopping is nice, but not violating copyright is even better.

Scenario 5:  Boron wants to put up a PowerPoint lecture on the History of Inorganic Chemistry.  He's not sure where he got all the graphics in the slide show, since he just scavenged pictures from the Web.
Solution Sorry, but you should go back and make sure that all of your pictures are available for use because they came from the public domain or some other license such as Creative Commons.   There are plenty of great places to find legally usable pictures online-Wikipedia is one place.  Many people have pictures on places like Flickr under a Creative Commons license.  Please make sure to provide appropriate citations for the sources of your pictures!  If there are pictures from books or other places under copyright, either get permission OR put in a link / reference saying where the material can be found.

Scenario 6:  Silly reader, of course 'Carbon' wouldn't be posting on VIPEr... she's an organic chemist.

Scenario 7: Nitrogen  has a set of exam problems inspired by problems from the textbook that he uses in his course. The problems aren't in any way a direct copy of the textbook problems, but they owe some intellectual debt to the author of the textbook.

Solution: Nitrogen, this is a tricky problem.  If it's something like assigning the point group of a molecule, producing a molecular orbital diagram of cyanide, or determining the electron configuration of an ion, I wouldn't bother.  We all write these sorts of questions.  However, if it's a truly interesting problem, give credit where credit is due and mention your textbook muse.

Scenario 8: Oxygen has modified a Learning Object that she downloaded from VIPEr.  She's not quite sure how to do the appropriate referencing.

Solution: At this point, make it clear in the Learning Object that you used Ima Chemist's Learning Object in your attribution.  Be sure to attach a link to the original Learning Object in the "Works Well With" section, and post a comment on the original Learning Object to let other users know it's there.  In VIPEr 2.0 (next version), we'd like to set things up so that you can add your revised version in the comments section of the original Learning Object.  We're working on getting VIPEr to the point where you can see the evolution and variations for each single learning object.  (Actually, we're pushing the technology people to make this work for us.  We're not that good at programming!)

Scenario 9:  Fluorine downloads a learning object from VIPEr that was authored by Roentgenium and uploaded with an “Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike” CC license.  The learning object contains a figure from J. Really Cool Inorg. Chem. for which Roentgenium obtained permission to publish from the journal.  Fluorine wants to post this learning object on his course website that’s freely accessible to the www.  Is he allowed to do this?
Solution:  Almost, but not quite.  Fluorine can reproduce the learning object on a website that is available to his students, but not to the general public.  It’s okay for him to use the learning object in classroom on an overhead or as a printed doc or on a password protected course website. 

Scenario 10:  Neon thought of a novel way to use Roentgenium’s learning object (discussed in scenario 9).  She’d like to re-mix and re-publish, with an attribution to Roentgenium of course.  Can she do this?

Solution:  While we encourage re-mixing and re-publishing (when allowed by the license and with proper attribution), the presence of the figure from J. Really Cool Inorg. Chem. makes this a little bit tricky.  It’s unlikely that Roentgenium’s permission from J. Really Cool Inorg. Chem. extends to derivative (i.e. republished) works.  Neon has a few options; she can (1) go to J. Really Cool Inorg. Chem. and ask for permission to use the figure in her learning object as well or (2) leave out the figure but put in a note about where it can be found (i.e. the original learning object from Roentgenium).

10.  Discussion of (not copying) something in a journal, book, or any other printed source.
We know how to do this one - we do it when we write papers!  Talk about the results (in your own words) and then cite properly.

11.  Materials that you've submitted to the Journal of Chemical Education for publication.
The Journal of Chemical Education understands that to build digital community and facilitate the online sharing of learning objects (LO's), communities must be able to post materials on the web. If you publish a learning object to VIPEr, you are still able to submit a manuscript about that learning object to JCE. There is one caveat: the manuscript that you submit to JCE about your learning object needs to have value-added material. It is also helpful if you avoid using text that is identical to the information you posted on VIPEr about your LO in your JCE manuscript.

Typically, a JCE article is far more fleshed out, referenced, and detailed than a learning object posted on VIPEr, in the same way that a chemistry research paper is typically a "built out" version of the summary of key results presented in a poster or presentation.

One way to think about which portions of a complete JCE article are best suited to posting on VIPEr is that the things that normally go in the JCE supplemental materials (student handouts, instructor materials, etc.) are totally appropriate for VIPEr. In addition, on VIPEr the LO will be a living document that can be revised and commented on by the community until the cows come home. The version that you submit to JCE will be a snapshot in time of your learning object on VIPEr.

When you prepare a manuscript for JCE, don’t forget to look back at your learning object on VIPEr. When you post things to VIPEr, other practitioners have the opportunity to try your materials and provide feedback in the form of comments. This could serve as a valuable, yet informal, review of your object. 

According to JCE policy, which could change, you can post an associated JCE article with your learning object two years after its print publication in the journal.  If you’d like to have your JCE article on VIPEr with your learning object as soon as it’s published, you can pay JCE $200 to secure the digital rights for free distribution. You can, of course, post a link to the article at any time.

12.  Anything that you haven't yet submitted for publication.
If you submit data prior to publication (including structural data), journals can claim that your work is already published and reject your manuscript. Be on the safe side: check the journal's policy.

13.  Something else.
If you think of something, let us know.  We'll try to get a response to you quickly and then add it to this list.

Final Comments on Intellectual Property Issues

Remember, when you upload to VIPEr, you certify that you have the necessary rights to everything in the materials that you are making available. If you post copyrighted materials to the site, the copyright holder can ask us to remove the material, and legally we have to comply (this is a provision of the DMCA). To keep your materials freely accessible you should take into account copyright regulations before posting your object. Do your best to track down the original source of anything that you've borrowed and if necessary, get written permission.

Our final word of advice: when in doubt, keep it out. You can include pointers to online material instead, or references to published material. The idea is to share what works; we don't want to get in trouble with publishers, just to build our inorganic community and share cool stuff.






  • Nature
    Permission can be obtained online by following the 'Rights and Permissions' link on the right-hand side of the article's Full Text (HTML) and Abstract web pages.