Research Paper: Online Learning and Intellectual Property in Higher Education

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Intellectual Property and Online Learning in Higher Education

The account hereafter discusses the complex issues relating to intellectual property in the context of higher education with a focus on the new implications created by the proliferation of online learning strategies. After a concise discussion on statutes relating to intellectual property law, the account proceeds into an assessment of some of the policies in place regarding intellectual property at the University of Cincinnati, Brigham Young University and University of Louisville. This section reveals the variant of interests concerning both scholastic pursuit and profitability for universities. This also underlines the debates delineated in the following sections, which relate to the political and philosophical disputes around which the online use of intellectual property is defined. Namely, this discussion casts the notion of intellectual property as an economic commodity against the evolving economic prerogative of the knowledge economy, both of which are directly impacted by the mainstreaming of online learning. This discussion produces a set of recommendations on how best to pursue greater balance where these seemingly divergent interests are concerned, especially where furthering the goals of higher education is concerned.

Introduction:

The concept of 'intellectual property' is inherently complex. Questions about the ownership of otherwise intangible commodities such as ideas, creative endeavors, research, composition, inventions or art create a tangle of legal, philosophical and economic issues. Today, the impact of technologies such as the internet, the effect of globalization on cultural perspective and the always shifting mores of economic entitlement all are having a bearing on the rising complexity of the issue at hand. Universities must deal with this complexity firsthand, both with respect to the defining of intellectual property for the student body and with respect to creating standards for ownership relating to faculty and staff. Both of these matters are only cast into further complexity by the impact of online learning or distance education, a method for higher education instruction that has grown exponentially in use concurrent to the proliferation of web technologies. As the discussion hereafter will show, legal statutes, university bylaws and ideological debates all center on the often conflicting interests of generating financial revenue from intellectual property and using said property for the purposes of educational and social progress.

Statute Summary:

Before proceeding to a more extensive discussion on the subject, it is appropriate to acknowledge that ideas about intellectual property and the commoditization of the abstract have been in a constant state of flux throughout modern history, with legal statutes reflecting as much. So long as man has attempted to draw profitability and protection from art, ideas and inventions, a debate has persisted as to how best society might compensate the creator. On this point, Young (2010) notes that "the codified rules and laws allowing an author or publisher to claim exclusive rights to a literary work -- what we now call 'copyright' -- did not develop until the 18th century, long after the printing press was invented. And since then the notion has been challenged again and again -- sparking controversy long before the latest disputes over the pirating of music, movies, and other material over high-speed digital networks." (Young, p. 1)

Accordingly, Young points out that cultural and ideological differences -- not to mention differences in economic interest -- have long underscored divergent opinions on intellectual property. Where some have argued this is a necessary protection for viable economic commodities, others have contended that intellectual property serves only to propagate hierarchies of information and knowledge. Certainly, in the context of higher education, it is appropriate to remain always vigilant of hegemonic modes of dispensing information. Such is to say that there is good cause in light of changing technology to once again exhaustively re-examine intellectual property as a principle and as a practice as it relates to the experience of the student.

Where federal statutes are concerned, there are specific protections for expansive use of intellectual property within the context of education. Whereas certain restrictions might apply to the use of intellectual property for reproduction or commercial distribution, education is viewed as a context where use of intellectual property is largely unrestrained. According to the text by Morrison (2000), "under U.S. law, faculty and students have rights to use copyrighted intellectual property for educational (non-profit) activities called "fair use" rights. The Library of Congress Copyright Office publishes guidelines on its Web site for fair use by educators and students, as well as information for authors who wish to register the copyrights to their material." (Morrison, p. 1)

Morison goes on to note though that there is a need for a more refined discussion on what defines 'fair use,' particularly given the implications of 'distance learning' to the protection of intellectual property. Distance learning, typically conducted through online classes, is creating a virtual classroom in which material is ever more vulnerable to 'cut-and-paste' usages. And with authorship of class materials in distance learning often unclear, so too is the responsibility of the student to site certain sources becoming less clear.

While clarity is not as much an issue for the professoriate, economic issues of ownership become apparent when considering state-level statutes. Indeed, the terms defining intellectual property law at the state level typically connect state governments or legislatures more directly with the will of university systems. So demonstrates the article by McNelis (2001), which points to the university and its advocacy agencies as the overarching forces in commoditizing intellectual property created by university personnel. According to McNelis, there has been intensive disagreement about ownership rights as they relate to the creation of new academic materials, with the controlling interest of the university system demonstrating the primacy of its economic interests. So states McNelis, who observes that "My own employer, the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) in Pennsylvania (the state-owned system, not the privately chartered Penn State University), attempted in the fall of 1999 to assert full ownership of all creative materials, digital or otherwise, generated by the faculty; that is, proposing that "faculty must disclose in writing the intellectual property in which the University may have an interest before it is created." The faculty interpretation of this proposed amendment to its collective bargaining agreement was that this seemed preposterous: to inform the administration at the moment the project was first mentally conceived, and to require us [the faculty] to announce the existence of an idea immediately upon conception so that the administration could dictate the form and content of our own work to us before we started it." (McNelis, p. 1

This would, McNelis would indicate, incline many professors in the state of Pennsylvania to seek out independent channels through which to protect their ownership over works used for educational purposes. Ultimately, this would reveal some of the reasons that intellectual property remains such a divisive issue, with the controlling entitlement and profitability denoted by this entitlement constituting a distinct economic interest both for universities and those whom they employ. Certainly, as the market for online and distance learning has grown, so too has the imperative for interested parties to capitalize there from.

Still, to an extent, the issues that contextualize distance learning are not new to educational institutions. According to the text by Banas & Emory (1998), there is a history to distance education that suggests scholars have grappled with these questions for well over a century now. According to Banas & Emory, the connection between distance learning and intellectual property is one that has received considerable philosophical attention over the course of that time. Banas & Emory remark that "although distance learning may be thought of as a contemporary phenomenon in education, its domestic origin can be traced to the deelopment of correspondence study at Pennsylvania State University in 1892. As delivery technologies have emerged, educational institutions have integrated them in the expanding use and role of distance learning. While once considered non-traditional education, distance learning is most certainly becoming mainstream, and with that new status, a whole set of issues come into play for all participants and stakeholders." (Banas & Emory, p. 1)

And for the instructor, the opportunities which are presently available to him or her as a product of these technologies are diverse in nature and providing of a greater arsenal of instruments for gaining students' attention and gauging individual learning needs. This is to say that "the computer has become a virtual teaching forum of great flexibility, with ever-improving technologies allowing for avenues of student use which "include drill and practice, tutorials, study guides, games and simulations, inquiry and problem solving, graphics, and word processing and writing." (Berson, 486) This multitude of applications reflects an opportunity for a progressive instructional mode, in which these varying computing tools offer the chance to distill individual learning strengths and needs. However, these opportunities are also rife with legal complexities and philosophical quagmires. So is this reflected in the shifting approach to legal considerations on the subject.

According to Johnson (2006), the legal status of materials used for the purposes of higher education… [END OF PREVIEW]

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