Thursday, June 13, 2013

MOOCs and faculty IP entitlements

College faculty should seek to preserve their intellectual property claims for courses they create as MOOCs, according to former leader of a national college faculty association, who plans a book on the topic later this year. The issue arose some months ago when the academic senate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, questioned a MOOC agreement that awarded the university rights to online courses its professors created for provider, Coursera. Lots of righteous anger here, but what is really going on? And who might get stuck with the bill?

Apparently, some universities' faculty unions had won collective bargaining agreements in the past to give faculty, not their university employer, IP rights to the courses they created. But recently the game has changed as MOOC providers like Coursera set up course distribution agreements with those same universities. Coursera provides broad access to the professors' courses only when they voluntarily sign away those rights, a move unions perceive as undermining the agreements they have with their university bosses. For those scratching their heads, these agreements appear to have grown out of the scientific places on the campuses, where inventions created during research can lead to real money.

We'll see how the course story unfolds, but from what I can tell, the IP story appears a little different for all the academics who write courses. A course isn't so much an invention as a kind of written product, and like most written products, it depends on a distribution channel to give it life. Here's the rub: The owner of the distribution channel has rights too, and this arrangement has long been understood in the mass media realm. For example, journalists routinely sign away their creative rights to have their writing distributed on mass media venues. Researchers do the same when their work is published in peer-reviewed journals. Further, when that research or journalistic report is completed on company time, the researcher or journalist forfeits additional proceeds back to the employer because the employer already paid for its creation. Based on these analogous situations, under what terms should professors expect any proceeds from the courses they create on university time? How is having your course distributed on a MOOC mass media channel any different from having your work distributed via a newspaper or journal or the television airwaves? 

Inside Higher Ed 

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