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Protecting Intellectual Property in Your Course

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Protecting Intellectual Property in Your Course

The provision of webinars, workshops, courses and packages (often incorporating workbooks, DVDs, audio recordings, books etc.) are gaining popularity.

Some people refer to all of these as their ‘intellectual property’. They are correct; intellectual property will exist in each of these items. However, there is no overarching intellectual property right that protects a course or package made up of various items, such as workbooks, DVDs, etc.

There are though, different strategies that can be used to protect your course material:

1. Trade mark.

Having a trade mark registered is the only way to protect your business name or course name (Note: a business name registration does not give you rights to stop others from using that same name, and they may stop you from using your registered business name, if they have it registered as a trade mark).

I always recommend that business names be registered as trade marks, to avoid a competitor registering it and causing legal trouble for the business name owner. Whether you should register a course name as a trade mark depends on your situation and on the course name.

Case study: If your course name is something generic and descriptive such as How to develop a public relations strategy, then you will not be able to get it registered as a trade mark because purely descriptive terms cannot be registered. If the name of your course is slightly unusual, and it would cause you commercial harm if somebody else used that same name for their similar course, then I recommend obtaining a registered trade mark for it. For example, I registered Winning Publicity Formula as a trade mark for my client’s Public Relations course. It was a name that she developed, and nobody else was using, and she did not want others to start using it and have people confuse her course with other courses.

2. Copyright.

Make sure you do not infringe copyright when creating your workshop materials. Take care not to copy images/text from the internet, without the appropriate written licences.

Using music in your videos without the proper permission/licence will also amount to copyright infringement. If you use copyright free music, make sure you comply with the conditions of use and check that the person granting the right to use the music, is the copyright owner.

Copyright will exist automatically in course material that you create, provided you have not copied from other sources. Insert the copyright symbol and earliest date and most recent update date as a footer in all material that you provide to attendees. For example, © 2012 – 2017 Cathryn Warburton.

Case study: A client of mine had several staff members create a course. They then asked me to review and protect the copyright in the course. Unfortunately, the staff members had lifted large portions of the material from the internet, without permission. Being a university, they believed that all they needed to do was attribute the material (that is say who it came from) and they would be fine. This is incorrect. They could not commercialise a course that blatantly infringed the copyright of others. In the end, they ended up scrapping the course.

3. Terms and conditions.

Think about whether you wish to put any limitations on how the materials and strategies that you teach can be used by your attendees.

Having solid terms and conditions can avoid your attendees going into competition with you and using your own material to further their competing business. It is also useful to include your expectations of attendees in your terms.

Case study: One of my clients teaches a process to raise the profile of a business on social media. Her intellectual property became devalued when attendees complained that her course did not produce good results. We amended her terms to include a statement that if attendees did not put the process that she teaches into practice, then results might be poor. Once this statement was in her terms, she did not have any other complaints in this regard, and the good reputation in her intellectual property was restored.

Protecting the intellectual property in your course/s often takes a multi-pronged approach. The earlier you think about intellect property considerations in your course development process, the better because you can strengthen your intellectual property from the start.

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  • Renee Hasseldine
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    Cathryn, this is a great piece and so helpful for anyone creating a course. I love your work.

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