In part one we looked at the shift to sharing content and the potential challenges that may present to L&D.
Part 2 – Copyright and IP
Let’s just pause for a moment to consider what copyright and intellectual property are, because they’re both terms that are used frequently without being fully understood.
Intellectual property (IP) refers to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognised. Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property rights include copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial design rights and trade secrets in some jurisdictions.
Copyright – a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time. It gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other, related rights. It is an intellectual property form (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete.
The contemporary intent of copyright is to promote the creation of new works by giving authors control of and profit from them. Some jurisdictions require works to be registered to establish copyright, but most recognise copyright in any completed work, without formal registration.
Original source: Wikipedia
In short, the creator of a work is usually the copyright holder and in the UK and US a work is the copyright of its creator as soon as it is created, without any requirement to register it or to explicitly claim copyright, such as by adding a copyright symbol. That’s not say that it isn’t good practice to be clear when content is copyrighted and who the copyright holder is. Of course this situation is effected by legal arrangements, so you may want to check any contracts of employment or other agreements to find out whether the IP that you create as part of your work belongs to you or your employer.
Alternative Licensing Models
So if we accept that all of the content we produce is our own IP, and that for most of us in L&D that IP either directly or indirectly provides our income, how should we address the issue of sharing? How do we protect our IP when there’s a universal shift to sharing content.
We could certainly take a stance in which we fully enforce all of the rights granted to us through copyright,
aggressively pursue anyone who breaches them, and limiting the access and use of our content. This is a perfectly legitimate and understandable approach; after all if we’ve worked hard to produce something we should be rewarded for it. Most of us use this approach by default, perhaps because it’s the only one we know.
In some cases this approach may be quite straightforward. If you produce a piece of elearning content and then licence it to be used within a company, the technical constraints around hosting or delivery should make it easy to control. On the other hand, if you run a training course during which you give the attendees handouts, how do you stop them being circulated amongst their colleagues when they return to work?
If your content is online, or in any digital format, potentially it becomes much harder to manage.
One option is to consider an alternative licensing model, in which we retain our IP but at the same time make it possible for people to share it. There are a number of licences that allow us to do this, but probably the best known and most widely used is Creative Commons.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons (CC) provides a set of free licences that offer a more flexible approach to copyright than the usual “all rights reserved” method. Instead they allow you to take a “some rights reserved” approach, meaning you as the creator of the work can decide which rights you will grant to the end user.
There are four key aspects to a CC licence:
Attribution – Every CC licence requires attribution, meaning that when CC licensed content is used the original creator must be acknowledged, in effect saying “I created this, give me credit for the work I did”.
Commercial Use or Not – In allowing other people to reuse your work, you can choose whether it can be used for any purpose or only for non-commercial activities.
Derivative Works – You can also choose whether people are only able to use your work in its original unaltered form, or if they can create derivative works based upon it.
Share Alike – If you do allow people to make something based on your work, you can also choose whether they must offer it on the same terms (i.e. a Creative Commons or compatible licence)?
As well as the many independent content creators using CC licences, there are some big names you will undoubtedly be familiar with, including Wikipedia, the White House and Al Jazeera. CC also provides the legal framework for the Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative under which some educational institutions are making their courseware freely available.
We’ve already established that our IP has value to us, so why would we want to give away some of the rights to it? If we are going to give up some rights we needs to offset that against the good it may do us, and beyond simple altruistic reasons, there are quite a few potential benefits.
- It clarifies the copyright position of the content, offering a clear set of licence terms instead of relying on implied licence terms such as fair use or fair dealing.
- It encourages and legitimises the sharing of content, without hiding the source. If we think back to our earlier example of workshop handouts, there is a good chance that the delegates will share them anyway. By explicitly granting permission to share them we would remove any motivation to hide their origin, thus allowing our name or brand to be associated with the resources as it spreads through the organisation.
- Services such as Youtube, Flickr, and Picasa integrate Creative Commons search, as do search engines such as Google and Yahoo. This can be beneficial to anyone creating content where it’s hard to find original resources, such as photos on niche topics that you wouldn’t find in a typical stock image library. It’s beneficial to the creators of that content too, because it helps to ensure attribution.
- Taking a pragmatic view, it also saves the time, effort and cost of chasing anyone who infringes your copyright. As an individual this would be very difficult to do, and even for organisations it can be a time consuming and costly process with no guarantee of success.
The ease with which such licences allow people to legally share your works is a significant benefit. The trend for sharing and the increase in online content places ever greater importance on our networks, the people in them and the content that flows through them. Anything that ensures we keep the credit for our work as it moves through these networks can only be a benefit.
Conclusion: To share or not?
Thriving in a networked world means using every available tool to spread our content and our reputation. Choosing to licence our work in a way that encourages sharing has the potential to give us visibility far beyond the reach of regular marketing channels. That’s not to say that everything we do needs to be licensed this way, but we should be open to forms of IP protection that are fit for purpose in a network economy.
As an example of the simple practical benefits of CC licensing, in this article I’ve used and remixed content from Wikipedia and the Creative Commons website, safe in the knowledge that I’m within the law.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License too, so you are free to share and remix it yourself if you wish.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Note: It probably goes without saying, but this post isn’t legal advice and you shouldn’t make any big decisions about your intellectual property without consulting a suitably qualified professional.