Re: Distance Learning and Copyright

From: Charles Oppenheim <C.Oppenheim_at_LBORO.AC.UK>
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2003 15:14:52 -0000

The UK Higher Education Funding Councils and UUK (representing
vice-chancellors/principals/rectors of UK Universities) is about to publish
guidelines on copyright ownership in e-learning materials. These include
recommendations for contractual clauses of employment between staff and
universities on this very topic.

I have to say, though, that I find it hard to see what the problem is here.
The doctrine of work for hire in the USA (as I understand it) and copyright
law in the UK is that if someone ids in paid employment to do a particular
task, then the employer owns the copyright in what is being created. This
seems to me to be equitable. What is more contentious is if the employer
sells the distance learning material and makes a lot of money from it, then
the member(s) of staff involved in its creation should get some payment
above their salaries.


Professor Charles Oppenheim
Department of Information Science
Loughborough University
Leics LE11 3TU
(fax) 01509-223053
----- Original Message -----
From: "Stevan Harnad" <>
Sent: Thursday, December 19, 2002 9:02 PM
Subject: Distance Learning and Copyright

> [Inquiry with identifying information removed]:
> > I'm contacting you because of your tremendous contribution in the area
> > of free-for-use open access of research articles.
> >
> > My current concern lies in the area of teaching material and distance
> > learning.
> I'll do my best (but my only area of quasi-expertise is refereed
> research papers, before and after peer review...)
> > I currently teach [subject deleted] courses for which I have either
> > prepared or am about to prepare lecture notes.
> >
> > My university has a policy of claiming copyright for all teaching
> > recognising that copyright for books (textbooks or otherwise) belongs
> > to the author, except where the material was prepared for distance
> > learning.
> >
> > My situation is this:
> >
> > I currently use very little written teaching material, a few overheads,
> > a few notes to myself some talking and a lot of questions.
> >
> > Like many other institutions, mine is positioning itself in the distance
> > learning market, and very soon the courses I teach may be offered as
> > distance learning courses.
> >
> > In order to teach these courses I will be required to provide extensive
> > written teaching material, over which the university will claim
> > copyright
> >
> > I am not happy with this situation, and find it hard to believe other
> > academics can just accept this. My concerns centre round the fact that
> > in writing this material I would not simply summarise existing
> > knowledge, but put into my own ideas and thoughts. As such I would not
> > be happy to relinquish copyright.
> >
> > My questions for you are:
> > Do you know of anyone working on, concerned about, discussing this
> > issue?
> Yes, there are many people. One of the most active and able is called
> (suitably) Hal Abelson, at MIT:
> See his video at
> Boyle is good too!
> And Peter Suber of FOS is also very knowledgeable in this.
> > Most of the material I've read seems to be either: non-UK; assuming
> > academics will accept this; taking the view of the institutions.
> > I know you have initiated Skywriting courses and wonder what your own
> > thoughts are on these issues
> On the one hand, I've always drawn a clear line between author-give-away
> work (for which refereed-research papers are the paradigmatic case)
> and author-non-give-away work (such as most books and textbooks), for
> which authors want royalties and/or fees.
> I know that it takes a lot of time and effort to write a textbook --
> time and effort many instructors would not invest if there were no
> of royalties or fees. The university never tried to lay claim to their
> paper-textbook copyright, nor did they claim a share in any royalties
> because they were written on academic-salaried time. We are paid to teach
> and do research, not to write textbooks, so if we put more into our
> teaching materials because we anticipate that they can also be used for
> a textbook that might bring royalties, that's a bonus for our teaching.
> Having said that: most instructors (including me) have no interest in or
> intention of writing a textbook, and put what they put into their course
> materials because they want to. I don't think I would transfer copyright
> for my course materials to my university, but not because I am planning
> to make any revenue from them -- on the contrary, I want them to be
> open-access, just as my research is!
> Universities (like everyone else!) are still *extremely* confused and
> short-sighted about all these things, both with research publication
> and courseware. Yes, they have their eyes on distance-education revenues
> (and they need them), but it is not at all clear that the way they will
> make those revenues is by making their instructors transfer copyright for
> their courseware to their universities! That is certainly one possible
> "business model" -- but then they will have to make special contracts with
> their staff, hiring them to do contractual writing or video-lecturing
> for hire, which is something many instructor/researchers may again not
> be interested in doing (and it might be the good ones especially who
> are least interested!).
> So the universities, in thinking this through, have a few anomalies and
> conflicts of interest to resolve yet. MIT -- no small player -- has taken
> very decisive position on this: Its courseware will be open-access:
> Is there a danger that if there are no royalties to be earned either
> instructors won't bother or MIT will lose potential revenue from the
> eventual distance-education market? I rather doubt it:
> First, the best institutions, with the best instructors, are the ones
> from which students will want their instruction and degrees. So the
> institution is far better off not discouraging its instructors'
> creativity. But those are just words. Here is something more concrete:
> I am certain that in *exactly* the same way that research impact -- the
> scientometrically enhanced counterpart of "publish-or-perish" -- has
> become a significant part of the academic coin-of-the-realm (with
> salary, promotion, tenure, grant-funding, prestige and prizes depending
> on it), *so will teaching impact*!
> And just as the open-access era for research will generate more, powerful
> and sensitive new measures of research impact through scientometric and
> semiometric measures derived form the online research corpus -- new
> measures of usage ("hits"), co-citation "hubs and authorities," and
> many more rich and diverse correlates of research uptake and influence
> -- so there will evolve an increasingly rich and predictive set of
> teaching-impact indicators along similar lines, quantifying which
> open-access courseware is being used, how, and how much, what has
> influenced and grown out of what -- perhaps even how it eventually
> feeds into research impact!
> And with such objective scientometric and semiometric measures of teaching
> impact will come the reward mechanisms for reinforcing and encouraging
> their production, just as with research impact.
> So I would suggest you simply ignore what your university administrators
> are noisily contemplating doing at the moment. These are early days,
> and it will be the spontaneous creation of courseware by innovative
> instructors, and its use by students, that will determine the
> direction things actually take -- not administrators fumbling around
> a-priori, trying to second-guess creative forces that are beyond their
> imaginations! And I'm fairly confident that that direction will be mostly
> open-access (along with the teaching-impact reward system it engenders)
> rather than coursework-for-hire.
> Just keep doing your online courseware. And if you want to keep it safe
> from toll-grubbing hands, put it in open-access archives so it's too
> late for anyone to try to cash in on it!
> Stevan Harnad
> NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
> access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
> the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02):
> or
> Discussion can be posted to:
> See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:
> the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
> the OAI site:
> and the free OAI institutional archiving software site:
Received on Mon Jan 06 2003 - 15:14:52 GMT

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