The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Future of MOOCs Who Owns MOOCs?

Now that MOOCs are growing past their infancy, one of their biggest problems is defining who gets to claim ownership of an online course. Does the professor get to take his online courses with him, or are those the property of colleges, which devoted considerable time and resources of their own?

A number of schools are beginning to grapple with this question. As Inside Higher Ed reports, they’re coming up with wildly diverging answers. (MOOC platforms like Coursera have already said they will respect whatever arrangements colleges and professors work out.) At MIT, for example, a new policy suggests that the school will retain most but not all of the rights to a MOOC:

If faculty members who have created MOOCs with significant use of MIT’s resources leave MIT, they still own their rights to teach their course elsewhere, though without the produced recordings. MIT keeps that footage, as well as a license to continue the MOOC based on the course materials it helped produce.

At Duke, on the other hand, teachers will retain control of their MOOCs wherever they go:

“I own my own course content,” [Professor Cathy N.] Davidson said in an email. “No one at Duke (or anywhere) can teach with my videos without my permission. I can reuse my videos and course materials at CUNY, but need to acknowledge that they were produced at Duke.”

Davidson called her MOOC as a “one-time experiment,” but David Jarmul, associate vice president for news and communications at Duke, confirmed that she is free to offer it again from CUNY. Duke’s intellectual property policy, which includes a specific section on “Internet courseware,” grants all faculty members a license “to make ‘all traditional, customary or reasonable academic uses’ of course content, … whether they are teaching on campus, off campus or online.”

At the moment these questions are primarily important to the schools and professors involved, and they may stay that way. But when colleges figure out how to monetize online offerings, it’s a safe bet that the debate over ownership will heat up, shaping the power structure and business models undergirding universities.

Published on March 18, 2014 2:21 pm
  • Breif2

    “Who Owns MOOCs?”

    I do. Next question?

  • rheddles

    Each institution should have some form of intellectual property agreement that the faculty, staff and graduate students sign. Look at it. The answer is there.

  • BobSykes

    The basic labor law is that the company/school owns the workers’ products. After all, that’s why the workers are paid in the first place. So, schools own the faculties lecture notes. Schools are free to establish other rules, like giving ownership to the faculty, but when push comes to shove the law backs the schools.

  • free_agent

    As always, read the fine print in the contract. And arrange the contract so that unexpected future developments won’t leave you out in the cold.