If This is an Odyssey, Avoid Scylla & Charybdis: 3 Key Online Intellectual Property Hacks

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This interactive session for US and Canadian campus leaders provides back-of-the-envelope, no-lawyer-needed principles to ensure your online instructors can innovate, create, and communicate their good work—all while allowing our institutions to scale our technology-mediated programs, keep content current, and work collaboratively with faculty and staff creators.


Thomas J. Tobin, PhD, MSLS, PMP, MOT, CPACC is the Program Area Director for Distance Teaching & Learning on the Learning Design, Development, & Innovation (LDDI) team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as an internationally-recognized speaker and author on quality in technology-enhanced education. His books include • Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices (2015). • The Copyright Ninja: Rise of the Ninja (2017). • Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education (2018). • Going Alt-Ac: A Guide to Alternative Academic Careers (2020).

Extended Abstract

Conceptual Framework: Almost all colleges and universities have adopted technology-mediated teaching of some kind. What’s next? Our institutions’ intellectual-property (IP) policies frame a necessary “who owns what” conversation (Sweeney, 2006) about the materials and tangible products of technology-mediated teaching.

This interactive session for teaching-center staff, designers, and online administrators in the United States and Canada will provide you with back-of-the-envelope (Kaschek, 2007), no-lawyer-needed principles (Decherney, 2013, p. 55) to ensure that your instructors retain rights that will make them want to innovate, create, and communicate their good work (see Harper, 2007; Fineberg, 2009; Band, 2012; and Tobin, 2014)—all while allowing our institutions to scale tech-mediated programs, keep content current, and work collaboratively with faculty and staff creators (Ghosh, et al., 2007).

This session is a direct result of @OLCToday Twitter conversations, where members and colleagues expressed confusion about ownership of remote-teaching content developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While IP policies are not often a topic of study in graduate programs, they are an essential skill set for online program leaders. We now have an opportunity to influence campus-wide conversations around IP ownership and advocate for more equitable policies that honor the work of our precariously-employed colleagues.


Expected Outcomes: You will discover the basic principles to establish or confirm in your college or university IP policies:

  • what can and cannot be owned by anyone (19 US Code § 4341; Canada Code RSC C 42.02),
  • why U.S. and Canadian laws are actually a poor foundation for policy craft,
  • who owns what by default (and how to change that), and
  • the three biggest gaps in most institutional IP policies (and how to remedy them).


Session Activities: This webinar session shares rule-of-thumb guidelines in a train-the-trainer format to give you a simplified yet deep understanding of how to influence and apply IP policies about materials created at your institution. Come prepared to be part of the conversation. Based on examples from session participants and real-world models, we will engage in several hands-on interactions:

  • Intellectual property basics “owned or not” game (10 minutes).
  • Work for hire vs. moral rights “who owns it?” quiz (5 minutes).
  • Ownership beyond patents and research, terms for sharing, and severability “I want to do X” thought exercise & conversation) (15 minutes).

A collection of digital resources and a one-page copyright decision-making sheet are also provided to participants as take-aways for after the session.

This session showcases the plurality of voices and modes of expression in higher education by sharing ways to help colleagues to break out of restrictive (and often incorrect) practices that needlessly limit their expression and freedom in the classroom and the research lab. This session also practices international diversity, sharing take-aways specific to U.S. and Canadian audiences. The tenets of universal design for learning (UDL) will be followed in the creation of content and live sharing of information (e.g., verbal image description, multiple ways for participants to take active roles).


Conference Theme, Mission, Values: The session emphasizes leadership practices for which OLC members are among the campus vanguard. Knowing and spreading IP knowledge helps us to anticipate and respond to emerging institutional and student needs. By sharing an easy-to-understand and easy-to-apply set of copyright guidelines, we can build capacity for the future of our campuses by honoring the work that instructors and designers do while also planning program growth responsibly.


Disclaimer: This session is an overview of various models and methods regarding ownership of intellectual property. The facilitator is not a legal professional, and no part of this session is intended to constitute legal advice.



19 US Code § 4341. Definition of intellectual property rights. Copyright Law of the United States.

Band, J. (2012). The impact of substantial compliance with copyright exceptions on fair use. Journal of the Copyright Society, 59(3): 453-475.

Canada Code RSC C 42.02 (1985). Copyright and moral rights in works. Copyright Act.

Decherney, P. (2013). Communicating fair use: Norms, myth, and the avant-garde. Law and Literature, 25(1): 50-64.

Fineberg, T. (2009). Copyright and course management systems. Libri, 59(4): 238-247.

Ghosh, S. (2007). The future of intellectual property. Intellectual Property. St. Paul: Thomson: 925-995.

Harper, G. (2007). Intellectual property crash course. University of Texas Libraries.

Kaschek, R. (2007). A Heuristic Understanding Model. Seventh IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2007): 61-63.

Sweeney, P. (2006). Faculty, copyright law, and online course materials. OJDLA, 9(1).

Tobin, T. (2014). Training your faculty about copyright when the lawyer isn’t looking. OJDLA, 17(2).