Curriculum, IPRs and OERs

I recently had a useful discussion with colleagues at Beyond Distance about how curriculum, Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and Open Educational Resources (OERs) relate to each other. Let me try to summarise the main themes.

First, we discussed where various OERs that we knew about (such as the ones from the OTTER project) could be placed in a 2 by 2 chart something like Fig. 1.

Admittedly, we ran into some trouble in defining what we meant by the terms, but for ‘Altruistic’ we had in mind institutions that created OERs for the benefit of learners who might not otherwise be able to access such knowledge. ‘Commercial’ was plainly the label for institutions that wanted to profit financially, at least indirectly, by creating OERs. ‘Supply-driven’ stood for institutions that created OERs despite the lack of solid evidence that learners would use and benefit from them, while ‘Demand-driven’ described institutions that respond to known demand for OERs by creating them.

When we discussed OTTER, it seemed to us supply-driven: the University of Leicester accepted a contract from JISC to create the OERs. Altruistically, the university will make these freely available to those who want to use them. If there is a commercial motive at all, perhaps it lies in the university’s hope that the OERs will ultimately attract more registered (paying) students.

OpenLearn, at the Open University, is similar to OTTER, but demand for (downloading of) its OERs has been considerable, so is it more demand-driven? TESSA, the altruistic OER programme for teacher education in Africa, leans towards being demand-driven as the governments of the countries involved have all asked for the OERs to be available to their students, including serving teachers for upgrading.

Our discussion then moved towards whether and how the curriculum can be influenced by OERs and how these two relate to academics’ intellectual property rights (IPR). Figure 2, a rough sketch, reflects some of our thoughts.

It occurred to us that academics, in protecting their intellectual property rights (IPRs), probably restrict the curriculum; they also restrict the OERs that can become part of the curriculum in their university and beyond. Individual authors may have the power to include their books and articles in the curriculum, or to exclude them. Yet the creation of OERs is a process that can weaken or challenge the authors by asking them to sign a Creative Commons licence that allows learners to use the OER materials for nothing. The more we looked at the sketch, however, the more we thought that the OER could inform, enhance and amplify the curriculum – at least the policy if not the practice. Certainly that’s the intention behind the general OER movement.

This is a hurried note of quite a lengthy and detailed discussion aimed at clarifying what we hope to write up this month in a paper for a journal. My thanks to Ale and Sahm.

David Hawkridge


Think long, act short! *

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) can be really tricky when you are trying to publish good stuff that has been generated by other people, for use by the rest of the world – even when you have the permission of the authors.

To illustrate the point, here’s a scenario we discussed today in the context of our OTTER project, which is all about making teaching materials available as Open Educational Resources (OERs).

A lecturer from another university has been invited to come and give a presentation to students and staff of a department at our university. Someone in the hosting department suggests that the presentation be videoed – ‘for the distance students who can’t be here today’ – and so plans are put in place to do this.

Naturally, the speaker is asked for her permission before the camera starts rolling, and the presentation is duly captured in video and audio formats. In addition, the speaker is asked if she wouldn’t mind handing over her slides, to complete the package for the distance students. (In this scenario, which took place last week, the speaker graciously agreed to both requests, verbally.)

Questions then arise around the formatting/packaging of the presentation. For example, should we provide both the video (streamed from the university’s server) and the audio alone (in MP3/ podcast format)? Should we also produce a slideshow in which we synchronise the audio with the slides (e.g. in Adobe Connect), on the assumption that this is more useful for users than the video of the speaker with slides only fuzzily visible in the background?

The formatting questions are necessary, but not sufficient, in deciding how to proceed. The speaker has so far only given her verbal permission: written permission will be needed, indicating that she understands the uses to which the materials will be put and has permitted these uses. The speaker’s permission needs to take account of her copyright (in the slides), her performance rights (in the use of her voice and videoed image), and her moral right to be acknowledged as the author.

Apart from the speaker herself, there may be other parties who would consider that they have a claim to the materials or part of the materials. The speaker’s employer may have a policy regarding ownership of teaching materials produced by staff, and they may need to be consulted. In addition, if the speaker used any content (e.g. diagrams, frameworks) from other authors, permission would be needed from these people too.

The IPR considerations become all the more pertinent if we go beyond the ‘walled enclosure’ of the institution’s Learning Management System, and wish to publish the materials as an Open Educational Resource, for example in an OER repository such as JORUM or OER Commons. The key is to think about the possible long-term uses, and rights implications, of a resource at the planning stages. This is a mindset that anyone either generating or publishing OERs needs to adopt, and is critical for the credibility and survival of the open courseware movement.

* An IPR Moment

Thanks to Roger Dence for the use of his words as the title for this blog entry, and for sharing thoughts about IPRs in our discussion today.

Gabi Witthaus

Avoiding Ineffectual Property Rights

You may know already that Sunday, 26th April is World Intellectual Property Day (1) . Whether you regard this day of the week as one of rest or of work may depend on your cultural outlook or beliefs. Or you may see it simply as the end of one week or the start of another. What is more certain is that intellectual property (IP) and intellectual property rights (IPRs) are an important issue in any context and increasingly so in an online information age.

Yet, in some situations today, including in academia, IPRs might be seen as ‘the elephant in the room’. Something, it seems, that few people want to acknowledge or manage effectively, when faced with career-enhancing opportunities for publication, presentation and dissemination, whether online or offline. However, an awareness and understanding of IPRs and the issues involved arguably is a vital personal competence in the academic skill set.

A few years ago, in a primarily print-based era, these issues were perhaps simpler, more limited in extent, more easily understood, more easily dealt with, and located in more formal work and employment structures. Now, however, it is much more complicated, with complex multimedia products and diverse modes of delivery to mention just two factors.

This issue is no longer just about copyrights as such, but other forms of IPRs as well, such as performance and design rights — and not forgetting a creator’s moral rights. And also the impact of diverse contextual realities created by advances in e-learning and learning technologies and by changing work practices.

These issues today may not just be about what other people might do with or to ‘your’ material; perhaps just as importantly, it may be about what ‘you’ can or cannot do with your own material in alternative situations. So, some observations on IPRs to consider, with the caveat to consult and seek advice when necessary:

“Create it, own it” (well, at least initially) – In creating something, you as the originator, may own or share some or all of the IPRs that arise. What happens then will depend on the situational context (eg employment/supply contract, role/job description), circumstances and intended use, and may differ according to the type of rights involved. So it is useful to think about these issues before, not after, the work is created.

“Assert it, don’t lose it” – Take pride in what you have created, and assert any rights due at the outset – you can always re-assign them later, if that is appropriate. Brand it – don’t keep it anonymous. Provide proper metadata and file properties, so that there is a clear imprint. Protect it appropriately. Negotiate, rather than defer.

“Assign by design, not by default” – If you choose to sign re-assign the rights in what you have created, do so as a matter of conscious and deliberate choice, not indifference or ignorance. Think through and understand the implications, both for the present and for the future.

“License it, don’t surrender it” – Where the option is available, consider a license to use, rather than assigning your rights to another party. Where that option is not evident, then suggest it. That way, you may get to keep the underlying rights in your work, retain the freedom to use it as you might wish and still get published.

“Finish it, keep it, submit it” – Some publishers and conference organisers seek to appropriate all rights in material submitted for publication or presentation. So make sure that you have a clean pre-publication version that you can retain for inclusion in your own courses, or posting in a virtual learning environment, institutional repository or content management system. Then submit a ‘sufficiently different’ version for external publication. This may involve more editorial work (up against a deadline again?), but is a useful planning discipline.

“Think long, act short” – Think beyond the immediate possibility of publication or presentation, to what other uses and opportunities might emerge down the line. If you might want to use, re-use, reversion or repackage material in different contexts and/or for different purposes, then you need the rights to be able to do so without further negotiation or payment, even if further credits or attributions may be needed.

“Is Creative Commons an answer?”– A lot of attention is now given to the use of various forms of Creative Commons licenses. These may, or may not, be the answer to your needs, depending upon the production context, the nature of the material, the aims and possible uses. However, these forms of rights are increasingly relevant, for example, to open courseware and other educational resources as well as some conference materials.

“If you don’t know, find out” – Where legal matters are involved, it is best to consult with colleagues and to take advice. There are many useful general IPR guides available on the web, but remember that IP law may differ from country to country and context to context. In the UK, JISC Legal, for example, provides some excellent resources on IP matters related to e-learning.

Roger Dence, 24th April 2009

1 The aims of World IP Day are:

· to raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on daily life;

· to increase understanding of how protecting IP rights helps promote creativity and innovation;

· to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe;

· to encourage respect for the IP rights of others.

Source:, accessed 23rd April 2009

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