Protecting Your Intellectual Property as Instructors

Have you discovered your course content posted on third-party websites that provide students with course-specific information and materials?

What You Need to Know

Students who post your intellectual property, including, but not limited to, course outlines, class notes, PowerPoint slides or lecture recordings and past exams or assignments, are not breaching McGill University’s Code of Student Conduct. In very specific situations, where a student posts materials in response to a request from another student and there is a clear case of cheating, then, these students would potentially be in violation of the Code of Student Conduct.

Since course content created by instructors is considered the instructors’ intellectual property, it should not be distributed, shared in any public domain, or sold without prior written consent. Intellectual property is protected under Canada’s copyright laws and copyright infringements are treated as civil – intellectual property disputes.

What You Can Do

If you see your course material posted on a third-party website, we advise that you issue a take-down notice to the website owners. This is an example:

"Please remove the content for McGill course MGCR XXX.  These course materials [specify what they are] have been posted without the content owner's permission at [provide URL]. Please confirm once they have been removed. Thank you."

Generally, web site owners comply with take-down notices, however, they are under no obligation to do so. In Canada, website owners are not required to remove content and internet service providers will only notify website owners about any complaints in this regard, but they are not required to remove content either.

It is also important to note that sometimes, it can be difficult to determine where or to whom take-down notices should be sent. You may try to find website owners using the WHOIS search tool at  Identifying individuals who post content without authorization may also be difficult as anyone can create email or website accounts using pseudonyms.

In cases where an instructor believes that there have been clear copyright infringements, they can seek legal advice and recourse. Of course, legal action is not always successful and many variables are considered including the amount of time the material was posted for, the nature of the website and if it is password-protected and if the posting is considered to be in the interest of fair educational learning.

We strongly encourage instructors to include copyright symbols on their intellectual property. Course outlines should indicate that all authorized course material is posted on MyCourses and cannot be redistributed without the prior consent of the instructor.  Finally, instructors may want to inform students about the potential pitfalls of seeking information from third-party sites, which may not be accurate, relevant or timely.

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