UPDATED: Why I’m Frustrated by Khan Academy


Khan Academy is a truly amazing educational website. It’s loaded with over 1,000 videos on a wide variety of topics in math, science, and finance. And while all the videos on the site were made by one guy working in his spare time (until just a few months ago), the KA site purportedly receives as much traffic as MIT OCW.

So what’s not to love?

I’ve emailed Khan directly several times asking about the copyright status of the videos on his site and have never received an answer. The site does not have a terms of use page, and each individual video page says simply (c) Khan Academy at the bottom. So… what are we to make of these videos?

Today, Glen Moody (who I like a lot and who should know better) praised the site as a DIY OCW. This is yet another example of the confusion around “free” educational resources on the internet and ones that are truly open (which confusion, if Twitter is to be believed, was a topic of much discussion at the recent Hewlett Foundation OER meeting). If Khan’s site is fully (c), which it appears to be, then Khan Academy is no more an OCW site than CNN is an open news site. It’s free, and that’s all it is. Apparently site users have none of the 4 R permissions we would expect from an open educational resource.

Well, if Khan chooses the All Rights Reserved path that’s his prerogative, right? Absolutely right. Do I judge him for that? Absolutely not – it’s his content, he gets to decide how to distribute it.

So why am I frustrated? Because he seems to be riding the OER / OCW / open content hype wave without actually openly licensing any of his material. In essence, he appears to be free riding on the reputation of the open education movement. Not only is he gaining good will and publicity for something he’s not actually doing, he’s further confusing the matter by letting people continue to think his site contains open educational resources when it only contains (c) material. I wish he would just put a clear statement on his site that says either:

“The material on this site is copyrighted, all rights reserved, and you may not download, share, remix, mashup, or use the videos in any other way without my express permission. The materials on this site are not ‘open educational resources.'”


“The material on this site is provided under Creative Commons license X and is provided to you as an open educational resource.”

Would that be so hard? My most recent letter to Khan reads:


I love your site, but continue to be frustrated by the lack of a terms of use page or overall statement about copyright. Now that Glen Moody is calling your site an OCW, many people will have the idea that your videos are open source and that it’s ok to download, change, and share them. Please, please, please make a clear statement somewhere on your site about the copyright status of your videos. I would encourage you to choose Creative Commons, but would fully respect any choice you made if you would simply be clear about it.

I’ve emailed you three times about this now, and blogged about it today as well.




Maybe if several people write him a letter, he’ll do something about it…


Within an hour of making this post and sending the above email, I received the following response from Sal:

Hi David,

Thanks for pointing this out. Per your suggestion, I just added a creative commons license at the top of the page. Sorry for the confusion.



14 thoughts on “UPDATED: Why I’m Frustrated by Khan Academy”

  1. David,
    I too tried to contact Khan re: the same question with no response. However. A clear statement is not necessary. With no statement – he reserves ALL rights and so there is no reason tp consider his site as an open access site and we should stop giving him a “free ride” as if he is.

    I agree that he has every right to hold his copyright and limit it in this way. His videos are very good resources but they are not OERs or in no way can be considered more open (as you note) than an online proprietary newspaper.
    All the best.

  2. The description of the videos on YouTube includes a BY NC ND license, while the Khan Academy site now has BY SA.

  3. This is a very important distinction that needs be made more. I just posted this yesterday: http://brownelearning.org/blog/?p=698 .

    It’s RE: open source, not OER, but it still applies. A faculty member called free web apps “open source” and cautioned against using them because when the site changes or shuts down, you lose all your work. She gave YouTube and Facebook as examples.

    The problem I had wasn’t as ideological as yours. Rather, this person mistook “free” for “open,” then labeled “open” with the problems of “free.”

  4. Way to go David! Just like that – several hundred more video-based OER are now available. Hooray!

  5. Nice job, David. KA, is a great example of DIY ed and has gotten a lot of play. I’m glad to see that it is now under a CC licence. The popularity of KA and its new licence will hopefully lend itself to more awareness of CC and their mission.

  6. Great news! Persistence has paid off in this case, and CC-BY is the ideal choice in open licenses for such a substantial and popular body of work. It perpetuates openness by requiring that any reuse or derivative work be licensed in the same, open manner. Bravo!

    • Tom, you must mean CC BY-SA, which is both the license on the Khan site and the one that fits “perpetuates openness by requiring that any reuse or derivative work be licensed in the same, open manner.” đŸ™‚

      Bravo! Khan Academy will now be one of the first sites I show friends and I just made a donation.

  7. David and Sal
    I am a great fan of both of you. Sal is amazing and very dedicated to what he is doing. I love what he has done with the videos and many are benefiting from them. I personally don’t care whether he is OER/CC or not. Sal generously made his work free for all to use. I think we should appreciate that.

  8. HELP,!!! I signed into my daughters account and realized I mistakenly changed the language setting (what do I do to put it back to English)

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