Intellectual Property in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

As educators who live in the world of intangibles, of ideas and insight, we seldom consider that those grammar worksheets and PowerPoint slides constitute intellectual property. That is, until recently. With one-third of colleges and universities now offering distance-learning courses, higher education is being forced to come to terms with intellectual property issues by updating school policies to address conflicts about online course copyrights. As K-12 increasingly moves to adopt electronic and distance-learning platforms, questions about who owns that online course you're teaching (or taking) will also need answers.

Unlike authors, who are granted copyright ownership of the work they create, teachers do not legally hold the copyright of work they produce while employed, because such work constitutes "work for hire." For example, copyright of this article belongs to Technology & Learning magazine, not to me, because it is a "work for hire." Despite this rule, higher education has traditionally awarded copyright to professors, upholding the convention of academic freedom. But now there is money to be made, and that changes everything. Instructors and their employers are grappling over rights and rewards.

The future is difficult to predict, but a discussion about K-12 intellectual property issues is by no means premature. We consulted legal and labor minds for their advice on the issue. Ken Salomon, educational intellectual property expert and partner at Dow, Lohnes & Albertson, a Washington, D.C., law firm at the forefront of intellectual property issues, offers, "Copyright isn't everything. There are more important issues to resolve before teaching an online or distance-learning course. For starters, ownership of digital media isn't easy to define, since distance learning is a collaborative effort, often involving an institution's time and resources, and not just the mind of a single teacher." Salomon outlined four major concerns online educators should explore with their employers:

* Revenue sharing: How will the instructor and the employer-institution share revenue gained from the course if it's sold or licensed to another institution or company? Will residual fees compensate the course creator for their work? …