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Although it is not uncommon to see litigation over the ownership of a patentable invention, universities have rarely sought to exert ownership over materials professors produce during the course of their teaching, including textbooks, scholarly articles, and course content.The few court cases that address this narrow issue have held that faculty members retain rights to scholarly materials they produce.Faculty members may devote significant time designing new courses offered exclusively through the MOOC platform or adapting an existing campus-based course to the MOOC platform.The American Association of University Professors has long held that absent a specific agreement between faculty and their university, under principles of academic freedom professors have the right to develop course content and materials and to own any intellectual property they create.Some user agreements indicate that the course taker retains ownership rights but gives the MOOC provider a license to use and redistribute this content.Early in 2013, a group of educators drafted a document titled This document sets out broad standards focused on student privacy, access, academic freedom, and intellectual property for the higher education community to abide by in the MOOC context.In order to comply fully with the law and to safeguard against claims of copyright infringement, institutions may choose to consult legal counsel.Students taking a MOOC often submit homework assignments and other documents as part of the course’s requirements.

Faculty members, as course content designers and deliverers, have a natural interest in securing rights to the materials they create.

Despite their newness—MOOCs began in 2008, and have only gained significant popularity within the past year—the idea of delivering specialized knowledge to a mass of people can be traced to mail-correspondence courses of the late 1800s.

Distance learning programs—broadly defined as any course not providing face-to-face instruction—have forced innovative and creative applications of intellectual property law since the advent of those first correspondence courses.

Given an academic custom of faculty ownership over course content based on notions of academic freedom, universities may be advised to tread carefully when seeking to exert ownership in courses offered on the MOOC platform.

The higher education institution often serves as the identifying brand attracting students to a unique selection of courses.

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