Intellectual property *policies in the digital age: Who owns the course and does it matter?

Tracy Ellen Kamens, University of Pennsylvania


While residential courses generally exist only as spoken lectures (and thus, are not copyrightable), online courses are tangible, copyrightable property. With copyright come various rights to ownership, including control over content and the potential to earn profits. The rise of online education has pushed the issue of course ownership into the spotlight, as faculty and administrators argue over ownership. Unfortunately, the law is too vague to ascertain ownership; only through intellectual property policies will issues of ownership be determined. Using a case study design, two public and two private research universities were selected; all with a sufficient level of distance education activities to measure. The sample included two institutions with policies deemed permissive and two with policies deemed restrictive, in terms of ownership. Interviews were conducted with a total of seventy faculty members and administrators with a focus on their experiences with respect to distance education and intellectual property policy issues. In addition to interview data, other evidence was drawn from internal and external documents, such as course catalogs, faculty senate minutes, press releases and websites, to triangulate the interview data and frame it within the context in which it took place. The data revealed that faculty members are less knowledgeable about their respective institutional intellectual property policies and that such information plays a smaller role in their decision-making process concerning distance education participation than expected. Instead, other issues figure more prominently including a lack of time to devote to such projects, limited recognition for their efforts, no impact on tenure and promotion and a range of negative attitudes toward distance education from mild dislike to outright disdain. Accordingly, institutions which decide to embark on distance education ventures will need to address these issues in order to maximize faculty participation and sustain such programs. It is also recommended that, while intellectual property policies exert a limited influence, policies should seek to provide equitable distribution of ownership rights. Further, policies should clearly convey when they apply, explicitly discuss course materials of both digital and non-digital origin and articulate the definition and implications for use of institutional resources beyond those customarily supplied.

Subject Area

Higher education|Educational software

Recommended Citation

Kamens, Tracy Ellen, "Intellectual property *policies in the digital age: Who owns the course and does it matter?" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3124693.