The web has made it easier than ever before to share content. For some of us, this is both a blessing and a curse.
In recent years, post-secondary copyright offices have seen a surge in inquiries from instructors who are concerned that their teaching materials are being used online without their permission.
‘Homework’ sites such as Course Hero and OneClass offer particularly brazen examples. Course Hero describes itself as “the best library of course-specific learning resources to help students and educators succeed.” It claims that it does not allow copyright-protected content to be uploaded without permission from the owner. However, faculty complaints suggest otherwise.
A quick search for ‘Langara’ on Course Hero retrieves over 3,900 results. The first few pages of search results include lecture slides, handouts, practice tests, and exams from Financial Management, Physics, Communications, Mathematics, and Kinesiology courses at Langara.
Course Hero and OneClass incentivize copying by compensating students for uploading course content. For each upload, students receive payment in the form of cash, gift cards, or ‘credits’ that earn them access to the site.
According to the College’s Intellectual Property Policy (B3006) and the LFA Collective Agreement (pg 59-60), Langara instructors own copyright in all of the works they create as part of their assigned duties. Copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce their works. So, when students upload pedagogical materials to third-party sites, they are indeed infringing copyright.
The waters are murkier though when it comes to lecture notes prepared by students. Copyright protects the expression of ideas, rather than ideas themselves. As such, students technically own copyright in the notes they record. Sharing lecture notes for an entire course is instead a matter of academic integrity.
Langara’s Student Code of Conduct Policy (E1003) prohibits “taking without authorization, or misusing…information or intellectual property owned by the College or by any of its members” (section 3.4(b)(i)). The Office of Student Conduct & Judicial Affairs is listed as the contact for related inquiries.
So, what can you do to prevent your teaching materials from being shared without your permission?
- Start a conversation with your students about academic integrity and why it matters.
- Include a brief copyright notice on your course materials spelling out permitted uses. Langara’s Copyright Office is currently working with DDC and EdCo to craft a standard message for course outlines. In the meantime, consider including the following statement in your course outline or within D2L:
Materials provided by your instructor are protected by copyright. You cannot share or upload course materials to external websites without permission from the copyright owner. For further clarification, please consult your instructor.
- If you discover your content has been posted illegally, ask the website to remove it. Many homework sites even provide quick, online take-down forms. While the Copyright Office can’t act on behalf of copyright owners, we’re happy to answer questions and provide support.
Lindsay Tripp, Copyright Librarian