All Your Ideas Belong to Us

In my search for a teaching position I came across this gem in a collective agreement:
“ARTICLE 29
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
29.01 An Employee who wishes to create or develop school curricula or school resources which are not on the Department of Education approved list of school curricula and resources, and/or use these school curricula or resources with students must seek permission from the Executive Director prior to developing and/or piloting such curricula or resources.
29.02 All school curricula, resources or material which are created or developed by an Employee during the course of the Employee’s employment with the Employer shall, for all purposes, be the property of the Employer, unless there is another arrangement made in writing between the Employee and the Department of Education. “

Isn’t that cute? A bureaucratic solution for a non-existing problem. The normal default behaviour is that when a teacher creates content as assigned by the employer, the employer owns that content. This moves the default to “all your ideas belong to us”. Is it a move to stifle creativity? Is it ignorance of the teacher’s role? Is it ignorance of how education happens?

To see why this matters to teachers, consider a new teacher going to work in some organization for the first time. Typically, the school will provide an abundance of resources but from time to time the available resources will not meet the needs of the students and be compliant with the curriculum. In that case, content has to be found or created. To make material that is relevant to students and therefor more effective, a teacher normally creates content in the form of documents, or images etc. that in the opinion of the teacher will promote effective education. What happens when that teacher changes employers? Under this new default rule, the teacher cannot automatically take that content along to the next position as a resource on hand. Instead, the teacher will have to recreate the content in the new place, a completely unnecessary burden.

This is not about teachers writing textbooks or doing private business in the employer’s site. This is about doing what teachers do. In fact, the rule will likely be ignored because it is largely unenforceable and the employer is essentially pressuring teachers to violate the contract in the ordinary course of business, perhaps as a lever to dispose of teachers who “rock the boat” in some other way. The rule cannot likely be implemented with hundreds of teachers requesting permission to keep their ideas for themselves. The few who do make the request will likely be told, “No”, and be stifled.

The rule is obviously unfair as well. Teachers who created content in previous circumstances may freely use the material so the students get the benefit of previously generated material but students of other employers will not get the benefit of content created by the teacher under the rule.

The rule could have some benefit to students to exclude inappropriate content from schools but that is a tiny problem if it exists at all. For the problem to be eliminated employers of teachers need only provide an abundance of resources or supervise teachers more closely, something they do not do for budgetary reasons. I have often been in a situation where suitable resources were published but the school had none and was told to make a request for next year’s budget… Content needs to be available for the courses offered and there will always be some content that is needed that is not anticipated “last year”.

In my favourite role as a teacher of information processing, the content under consideration could be a web site I design or a computer programme, or some illustration or documentation or an assignment or test. This rule, if followed rigorously could mean that I am prevented from sharing my work with my fellow teachers on the LAN. How silly is that? Clearly I cannot publish even for internal use my own content without permission. Will the employer give me blanket permission with a licence to use the stuff throughout the system? Will the employer insist on previewing presentations at meetings and conferences? It gets too silly very quickly.

Sigh. Bureaucrats. It’s another thing to make the interview interesting.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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7 Responses to All Your Ideas Belong to Us

  1. twitter says:

    This type of language seems to be common in contracts. I saw it at a Fortune 100 company, watched it implemented at LSU, Baton Rouge, and in a form downloaded off the web by a smaller company. LSU claimed to be generous by “sharing” half of what they stole from professors and graduate students. The form letter contract was, of course, a Microsoft Word document.

    It’s an overreaching power grab and often illegal. In your case, the terms lay claim to all “materials”, which includes what you submit to Wikipedia, code you write and anything else that might be of use in a classroom. If these contracts are not directly suggested by big publishers, they are a direct result of their propaganda about “Intellectual Property“, “content” and so on and so forth.

  2. Contrarian says:

    You could try that, but then you could not legitimately sign the employment agreement that is probably been set up by your employer’s lawyers to put you in trouble of some other kind. I bet that would be grounds for both dismissal and denying any unemployment benefit claim as you mentioned somewhere else.

  3. It might work if I make the contract with my wife beforehand.

  4. Contrarian says:

    “If you sign a contract with your wife, declaring she owns the IP in exchange for such payment, then the board will NOT own the rights to whatever you’ve made.”

    I think that fails because the contract that you make with your wife is not a valid contract since you, because of your prior agreement with the board, are not legally able to enter into such a contract. I think the legal term is “promissory estopple” or something similar, meaning that you cannot contract to give away something that is the property of someone else.

  5. That’s cute. A simple plan to undermine an unworkable regime… :-)

  6. ThatWasThenThisIsNow says:

    Have your wife pay you $0.01 for a set of lesson plans that you will work on after school hours and will eventually use in your board. If you sign a contract with your wife, declaring she owns the IP in exchange for such payment, then the board will NOT own the rights to whatever you’ve made.

    In addition, your board cannot force you to hand over anything unless it is on their hardware or paper. So, write using your own paper and/or your own netbook and if they say they want a copy, ask them to send the request in writing to your union rep and layer.

    Furthermore, this works both ways. Demand that all curriculum be provided to you (ask your union rep) when teaching a new course. If your board has such an agreement, and if you know a neighbouring school has such a course running, demand that the material be sent to you. The board will probably drop that clause, because of the hassle and animosity this creates.

  7. Contrarian says:

    That is a pretty harsh example of what are common agreements with employers regarding employee innovations and rights thereto. My last company had a similar clause but they specificallyhh excluded things that the employee might invent outside of work hours and away from company facilities. They excluded things that were not related to company business. So I could work on an internet game in the evening at home and on the week ends since the company had nothing to do with games. Of course the skills you apply at work to develop programs is the same for company business and game development.

    Anything that the employee had developed prior to employment start was also excluded and the employee was allowed to list specific things that were to be excluded under this prior art sort of thing.

    This agreement sounds like they simply own everything that you might do unless you make some prior arrangements. I don’t have any experience with what teachers might do to create their own lesson plans or how much leeway they might have to do their own thing versus some pre-set curriculum. Do you have any information regarding what others might have done to keep ownership of their own innovations? Maybe it is easy to get permission and recognition.

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