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Who Owns My Online Course Content? And How Should I Best Protect It?
Being a part of the small business community is something truly special; you can connect with business owners all over the country and gain a wealth of knowledge from their personal experiences.
As you grow in the business world, you will see the opportunity to create online courses as a way to share your knowledge. This is usually done through pdfs/powerpoints, screenflow recordings, and so on. The big caveat to sharing information through digital online courses is it puts you at risk for the content to be shared without your permission.
A recurring problem we see is students believing they can share the material with others because they purchased the content. So, how do you decide who actually owns the content?
And, how can online courses be protected? Keep reading as we discuss a few different options.
The answer to the first question is fairly simple; YOU OWN YOUR CONTENT. Is it copyrighted under common law the minute you put your business ideas into a fixed, tangible medium, such as powerpoints. Thus, when students share the content with others, they are violating the copyright because you likely only allowed that singular purchaser permission to the content. This leads right into Copyright Infringement which means you have the legal right to file a lawsuit if students illegally share your course without permission. If you want information regarding Copyrights, check out this blog!
The second question is a little more complex as there are a few extra steps when legally protecting your course content. However, if you follow these five easy steps your content will be more secure from unlicensed use.
First, you should attempt to get the content and course legally registered with the U.S. Copyright office. Although your content is immediately copyrighted when created, that does not mean it is fully legally protected. You do not need to take this step if you do not want to, but it is worth considering for the legal protection of your course because then you can sue for automatic damages.
Second, you need to be diligent in keeping receipts, e-confirmations, and anything else associated with sales from this course. The U.S. Copyright Office is going to request these items to ensure that the course is yours and how much revenue is being lost by this issue (i.e. your damages associated with the infringement); not to mention that it is a great way to save information for tax purposes. Remember to make sure each sale is time-stamped with the name of the purchaser, date of purchase, and cost.
Third, make your course common knowledge to the public by posting it on your website, social media posts, etc. This really establishes your intentions to commercially sell an online course regarding this topic and that all copyrighted material within it belongs to your business. It also places a timestamp on when you first promoted the course, so that if others use your content illegally down the road you can show you had the first in right. You can also monitor infringement by regularly checking platforms where others may post your content (such as using the copyscape plagiarism checker).
Fourth, the shared content needs to clearly show that you are the owner of the course. By placing branded watermarks on all your course slides and featuring the © symbol on all your downloadable resources, sales pages, checkout, and online course platform, it makes it very clear you created the content and intended to have all copyright ownership. If it is a recording of some type, you need to verbally mention the topic of the content, your name, and that it is a copyrighted online course.
Fifth, CONTRACTS and legal disclaimers are an absolute MUST for online courses. You need to have all online course students agree to your course’s terms and conditions prior to them purchasing at checkout. This contract explains your copyrighted materials and that they have a one-time license to use the materials in the course. You can find a great Online Course Contract here that you can literally copy and paste into your checkout procedure. Additionally, disclaimers are a great way to combat infringement and should be disclaimed at the VERY beginning of your course content (usually in the welcome portion if you are screen recording the course). It needs to clearly state that the content is a one-time use license, your copyright policy, and that you reserve the right to file a copyright infringement claim if someone violates those terms and conditions.
At the end of the day, there is not a sure-fire way to ensure your content will not be improperly used. There is no way of knowing that students are not sharing from home, giving someone their login information, or attempting to use your content elsewhere for their own commercial gain. However by properly securing your content in a legal manner, you are reserving your rights to file a claim if needed. Do not forget, the tactic of showing legal repercussions to your students makes them less likely to test the waters of reusing your content without consent.
The best avenue for online courses is to properly protect them!
THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT & IS FACT-SPECIFIC. A proper legal analysis is necessary based on your location and contract. Consult an attorney in your home state for advice regarding your contract or specific legal situation.