Protecting your Course Materials

This initiative arises out of an incident in which a student sold course materials to a commercial study prep service. The professor discovered this and requested that the service remove his material and refund money to students who had used it. He was successful, but sought language that would make such an event less likely.

While commercial appropriation of instructional material is problematic, protective gestures have to be balanced against longstanding traditions of sharing teaching materials more widely, not to mention more recent “Access to Knowledge” and “Open Access” philosophies. Many instructors do not wish to discourage students from sharing course materials widely and even perhaps in ways not anticipated.

The University is not mandating a single approach to this issue. We articulate here options that instructors may wish to consider.

1. Do nothing

Any written or visual material an instructor produces is automatically copyrighted, and an instructor may pursue any violator of that copyright whether or not a notice is placed on the course material. Copyright does not dampen any ordinary use colleagues or students would make of the material.

2. Add a copyright notice on your materials

© Your Name YYYY. A bit more forceful than the former and may discourage some uses but not legally different.

3. Add a creative commons licence to your materials

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Creative commons licenses are in widespread use in government and educational institutions. They affirm an open approach to knowledge sharing. Instructors should not use a CC-NC license on materials that might be licensed for commercial purposes in the future — for example in the case of lecture posted for a course that might be used in future as part of a textbook. (As copyright only applies to particular expressions of ideas, however, materials may be licensed with CC and reworked to get around this issue if need be — different wordings or presentation make it a different work for copyright purposes). Avoid the variant licenses if you are concerned about student sharing with commercial study prep services and note-taking websites: “attribution noncommercial” will provide protection against this type of use. This approach can be combined with the fourth option in this list to clarify the status of third-party materials. To procure a CC license, go to

4. Explain the status of materials

For OnQ or other online platforms where the instructor is incorporating material for which he or she does not own the copyright, consider explaining the status of those materials. Add the following statement to your course materials: “This material is designed for use as part of <Course Name> at Queen's University and is the property of the instructor unless otherwise stated. Third party copyrighted materials (such as book chapters and articles) have either been licensed for use in this course or fall under an exception or limitation in Canadian Copyright law. Copying this material for distribution (e.g. uploading material to a commercial third-party website) can lead to a violation of Copyright law.

If you find your copyrighted material on a note sharing or commercial study prep service, you can request that the site remove your materials. Instructions for drafting a "take-down" notice are available in the Copryight FAQ under: "What can I do if I find my intellectual property on a note-sharing or commercial study prep website?"

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