Intellectual property protection removed from contracts

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Intellectual property protection removed from contracts

Policy covering IP rights for faculty is being rewritten to better establish ownership of online courses

The Intellectual Property Policy in the North Central University Faculty Manual and faculty teaching contracts is not present in the contracts issued for the 2016-2017 academic year. The statement affirming the Intellectual Property Policy has been removed without substitute in the 2016-2017 faculty teaching contracts. A new policy has been written by the President’s Cabinet to clarify and establish ownership of online courses, which is currently ambiguous, and will be instituted when cleared by legal council.

Don Tucker, vice president of academic affairs, explained in an email to all faculty members that the policy was removed from the 2016-2017 teaching contracts because the policy had been rewritten by the President’s Cabinet and was waiting legal approval before being distributed. “It is not appropriate to place an old policy into the 2016-2017 contracts,” Tucker said.

The changes being made to the policy have to do with North Central’s ongoing interest in online education. Tucker indicated that a conversation began in October 2015 between the President’s Cabinet and the online course development committee about the place of the Intellectual Property Policy in the development of future online courses.

Tucker states that online courses in higher education are typically created under the “work for hire” terminology outlined in US copyright law. Under U.S. Code Chapter 17, section 201b, “work for hire” is defined as works that are made under employment for the purpose of the employer. This transfers all rights to the work, including modification and distribution rights, to the employer.

Up to now, the Intellectual Property Policy in the Faculty Manual made no mention of online courses being created under “work for hire” conditions. In fact, the terminology outlined in the current Intellectual Property Policy could create confusion and conflict regarding ownership of online courses. Online courses at North Central may consist of lectures recorded by professors, excerpts from textbooks and work produced by students like discussion groups and papers. The confusion comes in when a professor develops an online course that includes course material.

For example, this semester an online unit of History of Western Philosophy is being run by Matthew Thompson and Glen Menzies, who is currently on sabbatical. The content of the class is divided between two resources: video lectures previously written and recorded by Glen Menzies and reading assignments from a textbook.

In the Intellectual Property Policy, a course is defined as “a prescribed course of study that is part of a larger program of study and most often thought of as part of the total program curriculum.” A course includes the course description, outline, syllabus and course goals and objectives. The History of Western Philosophy class itself is a course, and the ownership of that course, no matter who teaches it, lies with North Central University.

Course materials are defined as materials “used to accomplish the following purposes: to explain course content, to illustrate course concepts, to illuminate portions of a course, and to convey the content of the course as a means for achieving course goals and objectives.” In the History of Western Philosophy course, the course materials are the class exercises and the lectures Menzies recorded for the course.

Under these circumstances, all of that material belongs to Menzies. He is allowed to keep those materials for himself and keep North Central from using those materials if he chooses. If North Central wanted to use his lectures in the future, starting next year, they would have to negotiate a contract with Menzies to continue using his lectures. Menzies declined to comment for this article.

Currently, if a professor needs to develop a new course for a new program or program focus, the course is automatically owned by North Central University. If any course materials are created for that class, they are owned by the professor. This includes course materials created for an online class, as in Menzies’ case.

In the faculty teaching contracts for 2015-2016, the intellectual property section reads, “As a matter of employment, faculty member grants NCU a non-exclusive, limited license to use the materials in the courses at NCU including online courses for the agreed upon contractual remuneration [money paid for a work or service]. By signing this contract, the employee does not cede any rights to his or her intellectual property to NCU.” This line does not exist in the 2016-2017 contracts.

Since the university attorney recommended that a “work for hire” condition would be best for North Central, the sort of ambiguity possible with the current Intellectual Property Policy would not be fitting for online courses developed in the future. Anything created by an employee for their employer under “work for hire” conditions, such as an online course, would belong to the employer, including course materials like a recorded lecture.

“Work for hire” contracts can also be applied to specific elements of employment, such as courses and course materials for online classes, but not necessarily for course materials for classes that meet in person. The modified Intellectual Property Policy has yet to be revealed, so the nature of what will and will not belong to professors in the coming years is yet unknown.

In Tucker’s email to all faculty members, he noted that the paragraph in the faculty teaching contracts about intellectual property “was historically never been in our NCU contracts until last year. The specifics of that policy applied only to a minority of faculty members and there is no reason to include this statement in contracts.”