IP Agreement

Intellectual Property and Blended Learning Objects

The University Senate continues to deliberate the best way to handle ownership issues surrounding blended learning objects1 developed by Michigan Tech faculty or staff for reuse without the author’s involvement or in contexts outside of Michigan Tech. The current proposal (Revised 26-13, available on the Senate site) advocates mandatory use of a “Memorandum of Understanding” to clarify use and ownership expectations by authors and administrators.

While the Senate has NOT formally developed a policy, there is agreement that there is benefit in making the form available for your VOLUNTARY use while the conversation continues. Prior to the initiation of any significant blended or online course development project, developing faculty/staff and department chairs/school deans are therefore encouraged to jointly complete a statement of understanding regarding expected use of learning objects in and out of the Michigan Tech context. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is happy to serve in a consulting and record-keeping role if desired by the departments/faculty involved.

Why Do We Need a Policy?

The current Proprietary Rights Agreement signed by Michigan Tech Employees leaves unclear ownership and utilization rights for blended learning objects. Traditionally, lecture notes and lectures themselves have been considered “creative works” copyrighted solely by the author, and Michigan Tech made no claim on them. The substantial investment in technologies and development time and reusable/transferable nature now makes some course materials potentially valuable assets to the University. It also means Michigan Tech needs to carefully monitor and control materials posted using the Michigan Tech brand, implying formal University affiliation and/or endorsement.

Learning objects are developed in a wide variety of circumstances in that they may:

  1. use a mix of technologies owned personally and by the University
  2. contain components developed by faculty in previous positions
  3. be developed through externally funded work or normal teaching duties
  4. be explicitly funded by summer salaries or release time
  5. have varying “lifetimes” for utilization
  6. be developed by personnel with varying expectations of job security

Every situation and its ownership will be unique, which makes a “one-size-fits-all” policy nearly impossible to equitably implement.

Note also that since storage location and security on these objects significantly affects future use, any broadly implemented policy favoring either University or faculty exclusive ownership would be extremely difficult to enforce without significant litigation. A proactive approach that sets and documents use and ownership expectations therefore seems the only reasonable approach.

All authors are encouraged to contribute to the continuing policy discussion through the University Senate Academic Policy committee and/or the Center for Teaching and Learning.


1 A “Blended Learning Object” is any digitally captured course material with potential for reuse, including video streams, audio recordings, images, animated presentations, online quizzes or tests, surveys, group projects, rubrics, etc.