Typically, school districts have allowed teachers to retain ownership of lesson plans they have created. In some cases, those teachers have sold the plans to education publishers, such as Teacher-Created Materials. Now, some school districts are revisiting their laissez-faire attitude, in light of the increased demand for such courses by online publishers.

Two major issues arise. The first is deciding who owns the intellectual property a teacher has created. Institutions of higher learning have, to some degree, addressed this situation, and K-12 schools perhaps can follow their outline. The second question is tracking use of intellectual property and ensuring payment to each individual creator, when appropriate.

  1. Who owns the property? Two solutions seem plausible. The first is the “shop-right” policy, a policy in force at many institutions of higher learning. Shop-right gives the teacher the rights to the curriculum he or she creates, but the school has the right use the curriculum in its program without compensating the teacher. Proponents say this encourages teachers to create high-quality courses, while giving their employers what they expect–the courses they paid the teacher to develop.

Another advantage of the shop-right arrangement is that it does not preclude either the teacher or the school district from marketing the course, often under some sort of profit-sharing plan. Entrepreneurial teachers might find course development to be a lucrative sideline activity.

The other model, more common in the corporate world, is known as “corporate work-for-hire.” Under this policy, the developer of a course or training manual does not own the rights to the publication. He or she is compensated directly by the corporation for producing the information–often information gleaned from other experts within the company. The company holds the intellectual property rights.

Corporate work-for-hire programs can be appropriate for K-12 courses when a group of people is hired to create a specific curriculum or program. For example, the Deptford Township Public Schools in New Jersey is working with Generation21 Learning Systems of Golden, Colo., to develop teacher-training courses. All teachers are being paid under a work-for-hire plan, and they will not retain intellectual property rights on completed projects.

2. Who gets paid, and how much? This issue arises because most courses and curricula are not developed by one person, and people should be paid commensurate with their contribution. Thus, some software developers are experimenting with “tagging” online documents with information about who developed that segment of a course. In theory, that information can be linked back to a database operated by the course publisher, and royalties can be assigned accordingly.