Intellectual Property in a Digital Age

I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on Twitter.  Yet the conversation about “intellectual property” and “does the school own my work?”, has come up several times in the last month and I wanted to share my thoughts.

From my rudimentary understanding of intellectual property, older practices in education (that still might exist today) state that when you worked for a school district, the things that you created in relation to your job, while under contract, are owned by the employer.  When there is a physical element in play, this does make some sense.  You create something, use school supplies, resources, and the only one for you to “own” the physical item, would mean either taking it, or copying it, which would cost money to your employer.  But what happens when it is digital?

Technically, this would still solely be owned by the district (in many cases).

Here are a few problems with this thinking…

  1. Educators may become reluctant to spend time creating digital resources, or share them with colleagues, if they know they would have to start from scratch if they were to move.
  2. Because of the above, you may limit “innovation” because educators may be told that they have “ownership” over their learning, but in reality, it is owned by someone else.
  3. Not only does this hurt the move to a culture of innovation, this also just hurts culture. If you get into a situation as an educator when you are leaving and a district says they own your content online, this is not the best advertisement for new educators coming in.  Many people judge their time in any organization based on how they were treated when they left,  not necessarily the majority of their time with the school or district.  Who will you attract long term?

Now with digital, it is easy for both parties to have access; not just the teacher, but the district. I can understand that if you created resources while working for a district, why they would want access, but I can also understand why the educator would want to take this with them moving forward if they are to leave. With digital, you can have both.

Since this is just something I am starting to research more, I would love your thoughts.  Yet the reason I bring this up is that this is a traditional practice that needs a rethink in our world today.  We need to look at ways where we attract and develop people who want to be innovators, not discourage the process.

“Who owns the learning?”, is not a question that applies only to students, we will have to look at this question from the viewpoint of educators as well.

Who owns the learning


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