Developing an online distance learning course requires a significant
commitment of effort and resources. Once captured in a form for digital
delivery, the lectures and related visual effects can be re-used again and
again, and may become a strong revenue source through, among other means,
licensing beyond the ìhomeî college or university. Accordingly, questions as
to ownership will invariably arise.
No clear consensus has emerged as to ownership of online courses or how to
allocate the revenue from them. For example, Duke University has a new policy
(announced May 23, 2000) whereby online courses using substantial Duke resources
will belong entirely to Duke, as works for hire. If the professor creates the
course independently, the professor will enjoy full ownership. For courses that
ìfall in between,î a Committee appointed by the Provost will decide
ownership. In contrast to the relative clarity of this policy, under the new
policy of San Diego State University, the professor and the University must
agree on who will own the course before it is developed, with no provision for
situations where such an agreement does not exist.
Assessing Existing Copyright Ownership Policies
The first step in addressing these issues is determining whether the
institution has an existing copyright ownership policy and whether it properly
covers distance learning. Many institutions have in place a copyright ownership
policy generally applicable to educational and research materials. To encourage
professors to create such works, these policies expressly grant copyright
ownership to the professors, with certain limited exceptions.
These ownership provisions, however, generally have not been drafted with
distance education courses in mind, and thus are not well tailored to address
the online environment. In particular, most copyright policies do not directly
answer the question of whether a distance education course belongs to the
professor or the institution: the course content generally appears to fit the
definition of a ìtraditional work,î yet the delivery mechanism and certain
features of the course are anything but traditional.
Resolving Ownership Issues By Contract
Institutions and instructors should seek to reach an agreement at the outset
as to copyright ownership and revenue sharing. Developing an online course
requires a significant commitment from the institution, often including the
purchase of additional hardware and software as well as...