Whose Property Is It Anyhow? Using Electronic Media in the Academic World

By Sanders, Diana W.; Richardson, Michael D. | Journal of Technology Studies, Winter-Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Whose Property Is It Anyhow? Using Electronic Media in the Academic World


Sanders, Diana W., Richardson, Michael D., Journal of Technology Studies


Background and Importance

This article describes a study that examined the intellectual property policies at four-year higher education institutions in the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states to determine how these institutions assign ownership of distance learning and online courses and how they disperse income of intellectual property. Intellectual property has long been an issue of debate among colleges and universities (Heathington, Heathington, & Roberson, 1986). It is not surprising considering the controversial nature of determining ownership and income dispersion of creative works. To make matters worse, many institutions do not have adequate policies to govern the determination of rights to copyrightable materials (National Association of College and University Business Officers [NACUBO], 1980). As a result, intellectual property policies have been formed ad hoc and modified as problems arise (Nelsen, 1998).

Policies regarding patents have raised fewer questions in higher education institutions than those regarding copyright, perhaps because patents have been lucrative for a longer period of time or the law is clearer for patents than for copyrights (Gorman, 1998). Although President Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in October of 1998, this legislation did not update the current copyright law to facilitate the development and implementation of distance learning and other forms of technology. Hence, the inadequacy of copyright law has become increasingly evident with the growth of the Internet (Berg, 1999).

In academe, books and articles written by faculty members have traditionally been considered the intellectual property of the faculty members (Nelsen, 1998). Perhaps this explains why most higher education institutions do not address the issue of ownership of courses and curriculum materials in faculty contracts or policies (Harney, 1996). However, the potential economic value of multimedia and online course materials has raised the stakes for colleges and universities and prompted them to reexamine their intellectual property policies (McIsaac & Rowe, 1997). In some ways, online courses and course materials are like inventions, and in other ways they are like textbooks. The law is still unclear as to who owns traditional scholarly materials at the university, and making the distinction for online materials would mean the difference between the institution retaining ownership of instructional materials or ownership residing with faculty (Guernsey & Young, 1998).

The distribution of funds resulting from the creation of intellectual property is of equal or greater concern. Higher education institutions retaining ownership must decide how much of any proceeds will be given to the individual creator. Universities must then decide how the university will invest its share of the revenue. For instance, will the revenue go to a general operating budget; to the inventor's college, department, or laboratory; or be used solely for the support of future research (Cate, Gumport, Hauser, & Richardson, 1998)? Undoubtedly, some faculty not receiving what they feel is their fair share of the revenue will protest and possibly seek compensation through the court system (Guernsey & Young, 1998).

According to the U.S. Office of Education, "Universities particularly should establish written policies setting forth the respective rights of the university and its staff members in anticipated copyright royalties" (NACUBO, 1980, p. 12). Salomon (1994) recommended that intellectual property agreements provide for any situations that may arise in the future, such as the medium of distribution. Additionally, institutions must be prepared to answer questions such as, "What model of ownership should be followed with respect to electronic course material development?" They must determine if a traditional textbook model will be applied or if a patent model will be developed ("Current Issues for Higher Education," 1997-1998). …

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