The demand for online college classes continues to rise. Reasons for this trend include accessibility and flexibility for students, the use of smartphones and apps to conduct classwork, broader reach in recruitment of both students and teaching faculty, and the elimination of the space restrictions that come from brick-and-mortar locations.
In the flurry of getting faculty hired and placed for online courses, faculty are being called upon to sign contracts that may result in signing away their ownership rights for online-generated content.
To avoid this pitfall, follow these steps:
- Read your faculty handbook to see if ownership of content is addressed. If not, visit with your faculty senate about the issue.
- Before you take that course development payment, find out what that means in terms of ownership. It is likely that this will correlate to you becoming contract labor and, therefore, releasing all ownership of content.
- Check the college operating policies on content ownership. According to an article entitled “The Erosion of Faculty Rights” published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of California System has an existing policy that all teaching materials created for a class have a protected copyright. Do you know what your system’s policy is?
- Understand the intellectual property rights in your state. Do you have full ownership, joint ownership or no ownership? Who owns the licensing rights? For how many years does the copyright protect? If you have full ownership, you can modify, sell or remove the content as you see fit. If you have joint ownership of the content, you both have rights (with exceptions) as long as the proceeds are shared. If the university has complete ownership, they can sell it, trade it, license it, keep it indefinitely or remove it as they see fit. So, into which category does your content fall?
- Do your homework on online platform hosting contracts. When institutions sign on with companies like Blackboard, Angel, Canvas and the like, they too are contracting the usage of content. What does that mean for you?
Both institutions and faculty alike share the common goal of bringing the highest level of education to students in the most accessible manner. Moreover, they share the desire to bring outstanding faculty expertise to the classes. However, in the trend to take courses online, faculty must not forget to read between the lines and understand your intellectual property rights.