Is e-Learning Content Intellectual Property?

The term intellectual property refers to legally recognized, exclusive rights to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. So, is the e-Learning content protected by intellectual property law? And who owns the copyright - the developer or the employer it was created for? Most important of all, how can a designer make sure their e-Learning course protection is sufficient?

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In any sense, yes, all e-Learning materials are copyrighted automatically when created, without any further need for indication. A course author or designer is protected from unauthorized copying and plagiarism. But specifically indicating a copyright by including a copyright statement further protects the author should they need to enforce the copyright, and adds an additional deterrent to any plagiarists-to-be.

Writing Copyright Statements for e-Learning

As noted in this Learning Solutions Magazine 2012 article, indicating a copyright in an e-Learning program is fairly simple. All copyright statements should include the copyright symbol, shown as © or (c), the word copyright, name of the copyright holder, year in which the work was copyrighted, and the words "all rights reserved." For example:

© Copyright, iSpring Solutions Inc., 2014. All rights reserved.

In some instances, limits for authorized and unauthorized uses can be placed in the copyright statement. For example:

Reproducing and distributing this material without the written permission of iSpring Solutions Inc. is prohibited.

And when including a copyright statement for open-source e-Learning materials, the statement should be modified to say:

© Copyright, iSpring Solutions Inc., 2014. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.

As far as placement is concerned, Learning Solutions Magazine also offers a few guidelines, including:

  • Place the copyright statement at the bottom of the title screen of an e-Learning program or on the "About This Program" page.
  • Don't place a copyright statement on every screen of a sequential program - it's distracting and doesn't add any additional protection.
  • In re-usable modules, place a copyright statement at the bottom of the title screen of each module, so that it appears to learners the first time they start a course.
  • Place a copyright statement on every screen of an informational website that learners use as a reference - they probably won't be reading every single page of the site.
Who Owns Copyrights & Is Responsible For Course Protection?

It is industry standard that before employment, e-Learning content developers and their employers enter into a contract stating that everything created for the employer is now their intellectual property and they are the sole owner and solely responsible for enforcing copyright laws. However, some companies will allow e-Learning developers to use parts of their work for their e-Learning portfolio only and not for re-sale, as long as specifics are omitted.

The only ways for a developer to own exclusive rights is if the material is something created on their own time for their own use, or created on their own time and used while working for someone else, or if content is created as part of pro-bono work. Then the e-Learning course content is protected under the Creative Commons License. Of course, establishing from the beginning that a developer will be working strictly on a royalty’s basis is another way for an employee to retain exclusive rights.

These are just the basics of a confusing, little-understood subject matter that is often shunted to the wayside in favor of discussing engaging content or streamlining software. The best course of action for any organization or individual entering into a contract for the creation of e-Learning content or the re-use of previously created material is to consult with a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, copyrights, limitations and exclusivity. Legal battles over these issues can be quite expensive and time-consuming, but can also be avoided.

iSpring provides you with a wide range of protection features. You can choose what suits you best and meets your particular requirements. Learn more about content protection with iSpring →

You are also welcome to read about iSpring's advanced protection options in our article in iSpring's Knowledge Base.

Do you have any insight regarding e-Learning Course Protection? We would love to hear about your experiences regarding this issue.

For more information on current issues facing the e-Learning industry and the solutions we can provide, contact us today via our website or any of our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

Posted in e-Learning