Intellectual Property and Online Learning Research Paper

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Johnson reports that "in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)1 severely limited the use of copyrighted materials in distance learning. In 2002, the Technology, Education, and Copy- right Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) relaxed these restrictions under specific conditions. These two laws significantly changed the way educators could use copyrighted material in the digital class- room." (Johnson, p. 66)

In the section hereafter, the research considers the implications of this orientation for practicing universities.

We can see that in real and applicable cases, the statutes created by the SSHE and the TEACH Act have relevance to university proceedings on the subject. The University of Cincinnati, Ohio (2005) identifies this as a central concern in its official university Copyright Policy. This impacts the ownership status of materials created by university personnel but creates a far looser set of terms than that which is proposed by the SSHE above, seeming more to align with the relaxing standards implied by TEACH. Here, it is stated that "the university claims ownership as works for hire under the copyright laws of the intellectual property rights that arise from works created as the result of specific assignments; works supported by a direct allocation of university funds for the pursuit of a specific project; and works that are specially commissioned by the university. A faculty member's general obligation to produce scholarly works does not constitute a specific university assignment." (UC, p. 1)

This seems to specify that where intellectual property is created under the auspices of university coursework or using university resources, it is appropriate to view intellectual property as belonging to the university. Where online education is concerned, this may suggest lesser restrictions in the way that this material may ultimately be used by multiple parties. The discussion here implies the need for balance whereby universities employing originally created materials for online cources must protect their own interests without violating those of their personnel. This challenge is further highlighted by the Brigham Young University Intellectual Property Policy (2010), which denotes the need to designate appropriate uses for any financial resources garnered from internally created intellectual property. According to its stated position on personnel and intellectual property, "this policy is intended to support faculty, staff, and students in identifying, protecting, and administering intellectual property matters; defining the rights and responsibilities of all involved; and establishing support offices to provide the required assistance. It also stipulates how income generated should be distributed to the developers and to the university. All administrators, faculty, staff, and employed students are defined as university personnel. Administrative title substitutions, such as director for dean and supervisor for chair, will apply in appropriate sections of this policy statement." (Brigham Young University, p. 1)

These definitions are central to understanding the way that universities navigate some of the stickier conceptual challenges relating to intellectual property. As the political and critical analyses hereafter will acknowledge, there is something of a conflict of interests for universities where intellectual property is concerned. The sometimes divergent priorities of profitability and education are particularly prominent where the design of university policy is concerned. The debate over online use of intellectual property underscores this divergence as this becomes a way for university to cut many of the standard costs of providing classroom education while still possessing a controlling financial interest in materials used to accomplish this goal.

So is this demonstrated by the policy in place at the University of Louisville (1998), where the phrasing seems to handle the question of intellectual property created by faculty or students with extremely delicate terms. This is because the inherent assumption with intellectual property as a concept is that might drive some economic value through an intangible commodity. It therefore falls upon the university to preemptively define the terms around which this can be done without compromising the rights of those who create intellectual property under campus jurisdiction. To this task, the University of Louisville denotes that "In the course of conducting their normal scholarly activities, University faculty, staff, other employees, and students add to the storehouse of knowledge. The University should disseminate such knowledge for the public good. The University should further protect the interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky through a due recovery by the University of its investment in research. Accordingly, income that may result from this activity should be used to assist the University and its employees by furthering their academic roles, as required by law and University policy." (University of Louisville, p. 1)

In one regard, the use of online channels for education actually improves both the tangible nature of intellectual property and that ability to quantify gains there from according to online enrollment gains.


The discussion over intellectual property usage in the university context, particularly in light of the above delineated university policies, denotes that the necessarily present economic dimensions of this issue carry significant political implications. As noted earlier in this account, notions of 'intellectual property' are often tied into certain cultural, social and ideological features of a time and place. Today, the accessibility to intellectual property created by the internet and the interaction of global cultures with decidedly different ways of commoditizing intellectual property are both creating a complex political debate.

Certainly, one of the greatest challenges facing educational institutions is the evolving state of intellectual property within the context of online education. Perspectives on material located on the web during the educational process may differ according to generation and culture. Accordingly, Bruwelheide (1999) would project a set of obstacles up ahead of educators as web access and the sheer breadth of information available in this medium both continue to grow exponentially. Bruwelheide identifies this as a crossroads for the academic community, contending that "the electronic environment is currently forcing educators at all levels to revisit issues concerning intellectual property. Quick availability of information and data through the Internet has changed the way the general public views information since it is in seemingly endless supply through use of computers on anyone's desktop. Thus, faculty and students alike are faced with an endless, figurative smorgasbord of materials in varied formats. A dilemma concerning intellectual property occurs when owners' rights collide with users' rights and the public need to access and use resources." (Bruwelheide, p. 1)

This is having a significant impact on the way that students conduct research, even to the extent that some philosophical divergence may be occurring between educators and students in higher education contexts. Here, two distinct priorities appear to be at play, with the ownership of intellectual property and the authority to produce that which might be considered academically credible intellectual property both bearing relevance to a rather complex discussion. Even as educators work to convey traditional notions about source evaluation, citations and referencing, students flock toward informal databases such as Wikipedia, study note sites and even social networking forums in order to acquire information. Whether in an academic pursuit or for personal reasons, students are increasingly and reflexively prone toward the use of these online communities which have dispensed with the traditional notion of intellectual property in favor of knowledge economy.

The lack of political consensus on how to use and view intellectual property online has only been magnified by the issues relating to distance learning. Here, Salomon (2007) reports, certain dimensions of the online learning methodology have yet to be resolved under the terms of this debate. Salomon provides the research conducted here will a general overview of some of the legal considerations that surround online education's use of certain copyrighted materials. Today, there is some level of complexity associated with this matter owing to the hazy claims that may be laid upon materials used in a certain way. According to Salomon, "Copyright law provides a general framework for determining the ownership of various intellectual property rights. Although the law regarding general interest programming is relatively well settled, complex questions concerning copyright ownership arise when telecourses integrate live lectures and preexisting materials. The ownership picture is further clouded when groups record programs for tape delayed viewing and archiving. As a general rule, parties should enter into written agreements with producers, professors, students and all other contributors. Each agreement should specifically delineate the ownership of intellectual property rights in the programming itself and the materials integrated into the programming. Absent such agreements, ownership questions could ultimately be decided through litigation." (p. 6)

Naturally, there is a strong interest in the academic setting to make litigation a last resort. Therefore, it is increasingly incumbent upon both those issuing materials for online courses and those looking to use previously existing materials for their own courses to take the proper steps to ensure that protection has been registered or that permission has been received.

Critical Analysis:

This debate carries significant implications beyond just the way the information is generated. To a point that is certainly not lost on lawmakers or universities, changes in…

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