Intellectual property: a word of warning

Almost two years ago I went to a DEECD inservice, where intellectual property was discussed. A presenter outlined that if we developed work at school, using school time and school resources (such as a computer) then the intellectual property belonged to the school. Initially, for about two seconds, I was shocked. But it all made sense really quickly, that’s why we get paid, to essentially sell our souls.

People who work for, say, Lego or Greenseas Tuna and develop a new line of toys or flavoured tuna don’t actually expect to be paid over and above the work they’re paid to do. They’ve been employed to develop these new lines and by doing so, they are fulfilling their role at work.

So if you work in your own time and use school resources, some of the work belongs to you and some to the school. How on earth would you ever work out who owns what in that instance? I guess you’d have to hope that there is never an issue arising with such work.

Taking the DEECD advice into account, it then follows that if you tweet, Facebook or develop blogs, wikis, etc. in work time using work resources, this actually belongs to your workplace. If you leave your workplace for another sector, you may actually be required to give up some or all of the examples above. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Almost panic, in fact.

What of people who kindly share their work, developed at school, but don’t attribute it to their workplace but just to themselves? What of people who sell such work on Scribd?

So what about if you do work in your own time, with your own resources, but make a wiki, for example, with your school name and/or logo on it? Expect that you might need to fight for it. I know of a friend who did all her work in her own time, using her own resources and no links whatsoever to her workplace and her school STILL tried to take it away from her when she moved on.

Some of these scenarios are nightmarish, so it could be useful to ensure that they are covered in the school or workplace social media policy. As the pace of technology outstrips policy and legislation, it may pay you and your workplace to be ahead of the game to ensure no nasty surprises down the track.

20 thoughts on “Intellectual property: a word of warning

  1. Wow, what a thought provoking post! I had heard of this intellectual property issue in the past but kind of dismissed it. Now you explain it further, it really makes me think! Where do you draw the line? People like you and I do so much in our own time that is clearly above and beyond what would be expected of a staff member. We can only hope this never becomes an issue for us!

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Really thought provoking, Judith, Thanks. Especially in the light of all the incredible open sharing that happens every day between educators via social media.

  3. This blog post made me panic a little. I am the geekiest educator at my school and everything l I created was in my OWN free time (blog, class blog, wiki, Scribd documents etc). The school does not have a policy regulating this kind of work, either.
    Thank you for the warning !

  4. Thanks for the comment, I hope it helps. I know how many passionate people do so much in their own time and it would be heartbreaking to lose it.

  5. Your post reminded me of something I was told last year – people are now having to put into wills etc what will happen to on-line content once they die.
    I know that leaving a workplace is not the same as dying however teachers may also have to not only think about intellectual property issues for themselves but also for those who will be inheriting.

    Maybe we need to become proactive and ‘be ahead of the game to ensure no nasty surprises down the track’ (jway).

    Thanks for the reminder about this issue.

  6. Some of us were having a conversation about this at school last week. It does seem to be a very grey and murky area. Many of us who put things online are doing it in our own time. A colleague was telling me about a teacher who created resources to sell on her weekends and in her holidays, but was still told by the educational institution where she worked that they held the intellectual copyright. She now works part-time and designates her 2 days per week away from the school to her own business.

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  8. It’s a shame that it comes to this, a clear cut policy based on legislation is needed. I think some workplaces try their luck against individuals, which is quite sad.

  9. May I ask what happens if you’re employed by the government as a public school teacher in Australia? Who owns the curriculum that:

    * you develop during school time?
    * you develop outside of school?
    * most likely, a mix of both?

    Is there *any* policy at all that discusses this?

    I imagine that policy hasn’t caught up with the grown of worldwide PLNs and social media either, so is there ANY existing language in the workplace policies that pertain?

    If a teacher posted something under a creative commons licence and it was reposted elsewhere under the same CC licence with attribution, what do you think would be likely outcomes? Very curious and concerned about the notions that Judith has raised, in an Australian state and private school context.

    Thank you,

    – Ian

  10. From the advice I received, the DEECD or your school owns the curriculum if you develop it in school time. The mix of both, which is what most if us do, is a huge issue. So is the concept of a work computer. If you are leasing a laptop, who owns it?

  11. What does it mean though that the DEECD owns the IP? Is there a reuse policy even written?

    And how can a public school own the IP? The idea that a public school could own intellectual property paid for by the taxpayers and created by teachers for public education is antithetical to the principles of public education in Australia.

    I’m going to ask a friend who’s VERY digitally savvy and on an advisory position for the DEECD. It’s a good can of worms to be reminded of here. Need to sort it out 2011/2012 before it gets out of hand.

    Thanks Judith,

    – Ian

  12. Great post, I have been trying to find more out about this. My prin tried to tell me something about this last year! I thought it was ludicrous at the time and very deceptive! When I am at school I teach and partake in the plethora of teaching requirements! At home I use my internet, my computer and my time, (which is not included in the 38 hours a week we are paid for) to develop and improve the opportunities for my students, which I am employed to teach. So it would be good for this to become clear. Like twitter and many sites that are blocked at school, yet you do ur work on these and use them to prepare things, can they claim a percentage of these results? I am curious to know more,

    Great conversation starter!


  13. Thanks Judith. A very thought provoking post. I wonder whether the simple fact of having a blog hosted on global2 makes it DEECD property? I started a business many years ago that began by selling the software I’d developed for use in my classroom. Whilst I built the software entirely in my own time, I wonder what might have happened if someone had said to me, “You can’t sell that! It’s not yours!”

  14. I am employed by a college.
    Thy have two policy mehtods for dealing with intellectual property development:
    1) A block of work is a project and if created/written outside normal working hours an agreed fee will be paid by the college to fund it. Ownership then belongs to the college. It has to be applied for and agreed to in contractual terms by both parties.
    2) Joint copyringt, again by contractual agreement. Copyright is 50 : 50 and each has a say on when, where and how the other can use it.
    If the employee laves then in choice 2) above they can use the material to continue to earn a licving with their created materials but they must also allow the previous employer that benefit too.

    There is another scenario:
    In mycase I applied for both pathways and my Head teacher refused to entertain either. I have worked htere for 2 full years full time and am still on probation.
    My Head Teacher keeps barking about me handing ovwer significant materials I developed as my business Education stream is new to the college htus no prior intellectual capital.
    All my mateiral has been developed out of paid hours i.e., I work an extra 35-40 hours each week researching, developing models and then creating the content of maniuals, lesson plans, lecture slides, workshops and assessments. I think I should own my material if I have ot walk. My boss htinks I owe it to him.
    What do you think?

  15. Sorry about the typing above; I had hand reconstruction of my dominant hand recently and it doesn’tt work all that well! I also have fat fingers and BIG hands.

  16. I think that what you create in your own time on your own computer and not for school use should belong to you. If it’s done either in school time, for school use or on school equipment, then it belongs to school. That’s what happens here in Victoria. Other states and countries vary, but IP is a very big problem and lots of people and organisations have varying thoughts. I can see some court action coming up over this.

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