Intellectual Property Law as Applied to Distance Education

AuthorRebecca Purdom - Greg Brandes - Karen Westwood
Chapter 8
Intellectual Property Law as Applied to
Distance Education
Intellectual property concerns in traditional law school classrooms typically invoke appropriate use of
hard-copy written materials. In the distance learning context, the use of texts is only one of many
This chapter addresses:
Rights in course design and materials. What rights are held by the institution, the professor,
and the technical staff who develop and produce a course?
Rights in class-generated interaction and student work product. What rights do students hold
in materials and interactions that are generated in an online classroom, and how can an
institution effectively produce and use those materials for both content and marketing
Rights in third party materials. What unique aspects of copyright and intellectual property
protection create perils for online programs?
A well-planned distance education program needs to establish clear intellectual property (IP) policies that
fairly address the needs of the educational institution, its faculty, and its students. At this point there are
no fully settled best practices, although the needs of providers, particularly in the asynchronous mode,
probably require some departure from traditional models. The use of third-party material also needs to be
approached carefully within the framework of copyright and fair use rules. The one clear requirement for
any program is that its IP structure fully enables its intended operation.
Rights in the Course Design and Materials
In the traditional world of nonprofit legal education, the teaching faculty member generally asserts
ownership in the syllabus, in-class delivery, and any instructional and reference materials she creates.
Although there is an arguable legal basis that these materials are works for hire under copyright law, the
widely honored custom of the industry has been to recognize faculty ownership. The faculty member
may, of course, enter into an arrangement with a publisher to license or assign rights in her work, as in a
casebook, hornbook, or study guide, generally on some kind of exclusive and long-term basis.
Commercial publishers then charge students for these books outside the normal tuition structure, often
paying royalties or even an advance back to the author. Scholarly work in the law faces a variety of
publication arrangements, including copyright assignment, license, and retention by the author. Article

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