Instructional designers and content developers have a wealth of resources today, thanks to the internet. Copyright law hasn’t changed, though. The creator of an original work of authorship is granted a set of exclusive legal rights, whether the author is an individual or a company. Copyright law is notoriously complex, but there are three focal points that every training center needs to be aware of. For further research, consult the U.S. Copyright Office or an intellectual property specialist.
Content From the Internet
Illustrations, photographs, and videos abound on the world wide web. More than once, you’ve probably attended training where internet content was obviously included in a presentation or materials. Just because something is found on the internet does not make it public domain. Ideas, facts, words, and government work such as judicial opinions or administrative rulings are generally public domain; so are works created by federal government employees as part of their official responsibility.
Being available on the Internet doesn’t make content public domain.
A lot of the content available on the web is posted without the knowledge or permission of the actual copyright owner. Training centers may have a very difficult time differentiating between legally obtained and infringing material. Some tips:
- Obtain content directly from the creator through a legitimate site.
- Attribute the content to the creator or copyright holder.
- Use great care when using public file-sharing sites such as Youtube; just because someone posts the content doesn’t mean they are the true copyright holder.
- Quality content is rarely free; especially for commercial use.
- Review end-user license agreements, even for photos purchased from a stock agency or “free” clip art. In many cases the license is restrictive, especially for commercial use.
There has been a lot of emphasis on Fair Use by educators in the classroom. Use for nonprofit educational purposes is only one element of the fair use test. Many instructors and staff members may take the attitude “nobody really cares.” They do. A small, for profit computer training firm in Michigan was successfully sued under copyright law; the case revolves around the training center’s use of software and trademarks as part of its business activity. (Dassault Systems SA v. Childress, 2010). There are numerous examples of case law associated with the principles of fair use. (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/).
Copyright law is fairly explicit in both what rights are reserved to the author and what constitutes a permitted fair use. Training centers must be aware of the information being presented both in the classroom and through any web or learning portals.
Avoiding Copyright Issues
So what’s the best way to avoid copyright issues?
Create Your Own Content
The easiest way to avoid copyright issues is to create your own content. Creating your own photographs, graphics, and video or animation ensures your training center has clear ownership. Although content creation requires time, effort and expense the content tends to be of greater educational value.
Get Permission or Clearance
When it comes to copyright law, you are almost always better off clearing the rights. Obtaining clearance to use a photograph or article isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think. For publications such as periodicals or books, visit the Copyright Clearance Center. For music, you will need to contact the publisher (label) of the song is usually a good first step. If you want to use a video clip, start with the production company that created the content. Most major publishers and production companies deal with rights and clearance requests frequently and appreciate those who reach out and respect the value of copyrighted material. Be specific in how you wish to use the material. Obtaining permission to play a song during a convention session is very different from synchronizing an artist’s performance to your own photographs and video.
Protect Your Own Content
Training centers rarely think about protecting their own hard work. Your training curricula are valuable. Under the law, once a work is created and fixed in a tangible form, it is protected. Although registration is not required in order for the content to be protected, registration is recommended. Registration ensures that the basic data surrounding the work is part of the public record. It also permits your content to serve as prima facie evidence should you seek to enforce your copyright.
One of the more difficult areas for a training center is ownership of content. Whether it comes from a development team working on your latest online course, or from an independently contracted instructor who developed a great classroom presentation – the training center must know who actually “owns” the content. This should be clearly established by written agreements.
A Case of Mixed Up Rights
An independently contracted instructor takes a photograph of two workers performing a maintenance operation at a client’s work site. The client’s logo is visible on both the equipment and worker’s clothing. The photograph is subsequently inserted into a training presentation. The training center’s advertising guru likes the photograph, and subsequently uses it marketing materials. If rights aren’t clearly defined, this situation can cost you a client, an instructor, and many hours on the phone. First, anyone taking photos or video for inclusion in a training program should attain a model release from everyone visible in the photograph. If the training center or instructor doesn’t own the location, obtain a location release from the property owner. If a logo or brand is visible in the photo, you have two choices. You can obtain permission (license) from the owner(s), or you can edit the photograph. Finally, your agreement with the instructor should clearly define who owns the photograph.
In many cases, employees specifically tasked by the training center with creating content are not considered the actual author. The content can be considered the employee’s work product and the training center itself is considered the author. With independently contracted professionals, remember that the training center is your client and generally has the expectation to fully own the content. If your training center develops content, have an attorney specializing in intellectual property review or create documents to protect ownership of your content. Have an honest discussion with your staff and instructors when they come on board, so they understand the training center’s position. Attend an intellectual property workshop or seminar with some of your staff.
Finally, don’t be afraid to take steps to protect your content. If ownership of content is clear through registration and written agreements, protect your investment.
References & Resources:
Copyright Clearance Center (http://www.copyright.com/)
Stanford University (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/)
University of Maryland University College Library (http://www.umuc.edu/library/libhow/copyright.cfm)
US Copyright Office (http://www.copyright.gov/)