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I am an adjunct instructor at a technical college in the US. I was tasked with creating a new class which I would teach in the spring. I have finished all of my course materials (.pdfs, lab sheets, power points, etc etc). When I was first hired and told to create the new course, I was informed by some of my colleagues (former adjuncts at the same institution) that I would be paid for my course content. However, in speaking with my directory I was informed that I would not be paid for my course content as it is part of running the class.

Now whether or not that is right or wrong, I'm not too horribly concerned. However alot of my own personal time goes into creating these materials and I would like to protect my time investment.

Would it be wise or prudent to try and protect my course materials through some sort of copyrighting process of some sort, or something to that effect?

If so, what is a sufficient way of documenting my materials and ensuring that any party who obtains them sees them as "copyrighted" or possessing whatever protection that is applied to them?

My interest is in ensuring that my course materials are not gobbled up by someone else in the program, then taught by someone else without having been properly reimbursed for my development work in my personal time. Everyone else I have spoken to has said it sounds "not very kosher" that I am not being reimbursed for developing the course work.

I would simply like to protect my personal investment into these materials.

Thoughts? Insights? Experiences? Thank you!

I went through my contract, and there are two subdivisions that outline IP and copyright goodies, etc etc. The first paragraphs in essence state "The faculty member is entitled to the results of their research, IP, etc, EXCEPT when we pay for the research to be done, OR give you a break in your work load but still pay you to do the research, OR" - now this is the line I'm not sure about, "C. Under an assigned duty and/or work-for-hire arrangement with an external sponsor. " I was very informally asked "Hey, would you be willing to put together and teach a class on subject X?" Me - "Sure.". (That's fairly literally, the extent of the request and my response). Would that fall under either of the definitions of C?

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    What Lost1 said. Go read your contract and find out who holds the rights to the content you create. Not being paid extra to create it doesn't necessarily mean it's all yours. – ff524 Jul 18 '14 at 16:58
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    What country? Copyright laws vary from country to country. In the US, the instant you put the materials down in a fixed form (including computer slides and images), they are automatically covered under copyright in your name unless you are working under a contract that says differently. To sue someone who uses your materials, in the US you effectively need to have registered your copyright. Whether or not you intend to sue someone, once you've determined whether you or your employer has the copyright, you should mark all of your materials with the date, appropriate copyright owner, ans symbol. – Bill Barth Jul 18 '14 at 17:27
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    I believe copyright applies autoamtically to all creative works, not just in the US, but in every country that signed the Berne Convention. (If I'm not mistaken, it applies in the US because of the Berne Convention.) – JeffE Jul 18 '14 at 18:35
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    Isn't the purpose of teaching to... you know, teach the students well so they learn the material? Isn't it a good thing if your course materials are so awesome that the other teachers want to use them too? Wouldn't that mean that more students learn better, giving you more satisfaction from how well you're doing your job, as well as explicitly furthering your goals as a teacher? Think about why it is that you want your students to see your materials, but not any student who isn't taught by you. Does that really make sense? – David Richerby Jul 19 '14 at 10:18
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    I would simply like to protect my personal investment into these materials. — You'd make a better return on your investment by attaching your name to your course materials and then letting anyone use them. – JeffE Jul 19 '14 at 12:11
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Regarding your question

What is a sufficient way of documenting my materials and ensuring that any party who obtains them sees them as "copyrighted" or possessing whatever protection that is applied to them?

In the United States (I have zero knowledge of copyright law in other places) the following applies if you actually hold the rights to your materials:

  • You can only get copyright protection for materials that you have fixed in a "tangible medium." For example, you can copyright your presentation slides or a video recording of your lecture; you cannot copyright your unwritten, unrecorded lectures.
  • You can only copyright something you "created"; if you compile existing public domain material in a way that requires no creativity, it is not eligible for copyright protection.
  • You can explicitly notify others that you reserve all rights (the rights of the copyright holder) to the materials with a written statement to that effect. For example, you can put "Copyright 2014 0xhughes, all rights reserved" on the footer of each page. (Note that you don't have to do this to get copyright interest in the materials, but it's a standard way of warning off potential infringers.)

Here is a reference for this answer.

Regarding the first part of your question

Would it be wise or prudent to try and protect my course materials through some sort of copyrighting process of some sort, or something to that effect?

this has already been addressed by another answer.

Regarding your specific contract, you will have to seek further clarification from the university as to who holds the rights to the materials.

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  • Thank you for your concise answer with relevant information ff524. I have a good idea of how to handle my investments of personal time in regards to the multiple requests of program research and creation. – 0xhu Jul 21 '14 at 4:25
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To be clear, I am developing the materials while not teaching any courses or being paid by the school in any manner. It is currently the summer semester and I am not being paid to teach, develop course work or anything. I will have to try and find my contract.

The shows a misunderstanding about the nature of a teaching job. When you're paid to teach a course, you're not being paid to do work only while the course runs. You're also being paid to prepare the course, and you're going to need to do that before the first meeting.

I have finished all of my course materials (.pdfs, lab sheets, power points, etc etc). When I was first hired and told to create the new course, I was informed by some of my colleagues (former adjuncts at the same institution) that I would be paid for my course content. However, in speaking with my directory I was informed that I would not be paid for my course content as it is part of running the class.

Your colleagues were probably confused. Nobody pays instructors extra money to produce powerpoints and handouts. It goes with the job.

If you don't want others in your department to use your lab handouts without paying, don't give them your lab handouts. If you don't want others in your department to use your powerpoints without paying, don't give them your powerpoints.

As Bill Barth and JeffE have pointed out, copyright protection is automatic in most jurisdictions. It can be wise to put a copyright notice on your work, since a possible defense against a copyright-violation lawsuit is that the defendant didn't know it was copyrighted. A formal copyright registration is necessary in the US if you want to be able to recover more than actual damages, i.e., if you want punitive damages.

In general, the question shows an unrealistic set of assumptions about what teachers do; what they're paid to do; and what the normal contractual arrangements are. Furthermore, many people who write have an unrealistic belief in the quality and market value of their writing. There is no particular reason to expect that anyone else in the department will like these materials so much that they would want to use them. Most people prefer to do things their own way.

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  • I have no problem with people using my materials. There is a lot of research that does into the creation of the course. Not just paraphrasing from text books and regurgitating information in an educating fashion. The colleagues (the former adjuncts) also created new classes for the school in addition to their regular teaching duties. If someone wants my materials, wants to learn it, share it, great. However, I want to be sure that my personal time is not being taken advantage of against contract and policy. Thank you for your input Ben. – 0xhu Jul 18 '14 at 20:10
  • I have no problem with people using my materials. But if they do, you want to get paid? – user1482 Jul 18 '14 at 20:14
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    I'd say that unless you're also teaching the course, then preparing materials for a course is outside the scope of your duties as an adjunct. If you're going to teach the course, then you're going to have to prepare something. – Bill Barth Jul 18 '14 at 21:51
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    @0xhughes "[They] also created new classes for the school in addition to their regular teaching duties." Creating new courses and the materials that go with them is a regular teaching duty. – David Richerby Jul 19 '14 at 1:22
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    @0xhughes Check your employment contract and/or the administrators of the college. The section you quote in the question refers to your research work, not your teaching materials so isn't relevant. Preparing teaching materials is a normal part of a teaching job so I don't understand why you think it's something you've done on your own time: it's something you've done as part of your employment. It's what you're already being paid to do. You consistently describe it as if it is some amazing thing that you're doing for free. It's not: it's a normal part of your job. – David Richerby Jul 19 '14 at 10:14
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I am late arriving, but let me see whether I can understand... a) you are pretty sure you aren't going to get rich off your work, but b) it would chap your buns if the college took your material, handed it over to a TA and had the TA teach subsequent sessions of the course. Is that right?

If that's right then the question (in the United States) boils down to whether what you've produced is a "work made for hire." If it is, it belongs to the institution; if not, it belongs to you.

Getting a standard contract modified, particularly if this is a state institution, may be nearly impossible. I think I'd write a letter to whoever signs the contract saying something like, "My understanding of our contract of _____ is that all rights to the course material which I may develop to deliver this course vest in me, and that the University of _____ claims no right to any intellectual property developed in the preparation or conduct of this course. Please confirm that my understanding is correct." Then get a letter signed by whoever signed the contract that essentially repeats your question as a statement. It will probably be easier to get this going with a personal meeting than with an exchange of mail.

Then put copyright notices on everything. You might also want to record your lectures: http://bbrown.spsu.edu/papers/podcasting/podcasting_protects_ip.html

(I am not a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice. If you think the materials are worth tens of thousands of dollars, you need an IP lawyer.)

Edited to add: Take note of MarkJ's answer here and consider putting all your stuff on a personal web page with copyright notices attached. I've used the Creative Commons licenses for my own stuff. Publishing it that way won't keep others from using it, but will preserve your claim to authorship.

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    +1 The work for hire point is the crux of the matter. As a data point, my own university does not consider materials from face-to-face classes to be work for hire, but they do consider materials from online classes to be work for hire. There is no way to tell what a particular school without asking. – Oswald Veblen Nov 30 '14 at 18:30
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    Your first paragraph hits the nail on the head. I do not expect to make oodles of money from this in any form. Faculty higher up the chain have a habit of re-branding the work of others as their own work. I would like to avoid spending time developing the new courses only to be kicked to the side and someone else sticking their name on my work. I've already done two projects which were used for a senor faculty's master's project and outside job project (which were originally framed as projects for the school). I'm tired of being used for doing research/projects outside of the school. – 0xhu Nov 30 '14 at 19:52
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Simply write "Copyright: Your Name. Do not copy." Putting your name on it leaves them a way in in case they want to contact you for possible re-use or collaboration. The "do not copy" (or similar desired "term of use") puts your explicit intentions on the document, in this case reserving all rights to yourself. I personally put the latter part in a different font so that it stands out as a "meta-item" of the document.

Otherwise, if you think the "cat's out of the bag" on your material already, the best way to protect it is to publish it to the web, where the Internet can form a historical record for your creation and the community can now help you with fair credit assignment.

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  • The OP doesn't just want credit, s/he wants to prevent others from using the materials without paying. * Self-written terms of use can govern re-use of materials ("fair use")* No, fair use is an exception to copyright. If fair use applies, then the author has no control through copyright or licensing. – user1482 Jul 18 '14 at 19:51
  • Ah, thanks, I've deleted my answer. As for copyright and fair use, I think, like many, your understanding of copyright is wrong and has gotten confused after all the wars with software and has gotten conflated with the idea of a "right to copy", but no. Copyright protects authorship, so that no one can say take credit (authorship credit, not money) for something that another wrote. It's an unfortunate misnomer, that has confused everyone it seems. – TheDoctor Jul 18 '14 at 20:27
  • After OP edits, have re-instated answer with new data. – TheDoctor Jul 20 '14 at 23:07
  • As a pedant who took a one-morning short course in copyright, let me say that (C) was said not to carry legal weight. The exact C-in-circle symbol is needed, or the word, "Copyright" as in "Copyright 2014 by Bob Brown." – Bob Brown Dec 1 '14 at 0:45
  • @BobBrown: Ah right. Edited answer. In truth, even the term copyright is vague as an informative stamp. Communicating intentions to the widest audience is an art in itself. – TheDoctor Oct 2 '17 at 1:51
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I think we are missing the main point here: are talking about intellectual property.

I do not agree with the idea that pedagogical design is different from research based on the fact that the former was created to serve an audience (e.g.; students). Under the same premise, the copyrights of a composer's opera commissioned by an Opera House would belong to the opera house. Under the same premise, the copyrights of all commercially published handbooks should belong to the universities if the author happens to work, even part-time, to a university.

There is no question that customizing materials for a class, preparing a lesson, or doing specific handouts, powerpoints comes with the job of being an instructor. However, if a teacher prepares a whole course in his/her free time (e.g. summers) that is not bound to the school where s/he works, and furthermore, with the intent to publish it. Then, I think these materials belong to the teacher.

I find problematic all this idea that it is OK to defend intellectual property only when it is research. I think it is a reflection on the view of teaching as a second class citizen in some academic circles.

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You are being paid to teach a course, which means you're getting paid to create things like power point presentations, OR simply write on the black board... Since you're choosing to create a more concrete item, this is your choice, and that is still the property of your faculty. Whatever you create is being governed & paid by the faculty.

What investment are you talking about?? Please don't be delusional. You're not writing a research paper which is being published under your name. You're relaying information to your students. This information is out there because you were paid to create it. There is no investment here.

You're trying to get paid say $50,000 to create things for your course, teach it, and then get paid again for the same material!

That makes absolutely no sense! Find another field of work if you want to get royalties.

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    Downvoted because of the unnecessarily rude tone. Also see the Be nice policy. – ff524 Nov 30 '14 at 6:52

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