You are in :
Higher Education Funding Council for England logo Department of Employment & Learning (Northern Ireland) logo Joint Information Systems Committee Higher Education Funding Council for Wales logo Scottish Funding Council logo

July 2006/20
Good practice
Guidance for senior managers

Intellectual property rights in e-learning programmes

This guidance will allow institutions to protect their own and their studentsí rights against third parties. It draws on case studies of national and overseas projects and includes sample contracts which institutions can adapt for their own use.

Table of contents and Executive summary (read on-line)



[ MS Word 655K | Zipped Word 183K | Adobe PDF 363K | Zipped PDF 287K ]

The printed version of this document wrongly lists a 'Database rights' section on the Contents page; this has been removed in the downloads here.

Table of contents

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
    • Background
    • What can be protected
    • Dissemination of knowledge
    • Business models
    • Scope of this guidance
  • Intellectual property rights: authorship and ownership
    • HEI ownership
    • Authors' moral rights
    • Database rights
  • Legal frameworks
    • UK HEI senior management and staff
      • IPR policy statement
      • Staff contracts
      • Students
      • Freelancers
    • UK HEIs and third-party rights holders
      • Avoiding use of third-party materials
      • Heavyweight vs lightweight
      • Notice and take down
      • Third-party learning environments
    • UK HEIs and external users
      • Copyright statement
      • Licence agreements
      • Technical protection
    • Collaborations between HEIs
    • UK HEIs and external organisations
      • Implications of external funding
      • Government trade legislation
      • Private companies
    • UK HEIs and international organisations
      • Jurisdiction and choice of law
      • Authorship
      • Moral rights
      • Copyright
  • Technological protection
  • Commercial exploitation
  • Staff education and training in IPR
  • Annex A Definitions
  • Annex B Model contract clauses for staff, students and freelancers
  • Annex C Sample request letter for using third-party materials
  • Annex D Sample permission letter granting use of third-party materials
  • Annex E Local learning partner agreement
  • Annex F Creative Commons UK licence
  • Annex G Sample consortium agreement for multi-partner collaborative R & D projects
  • Annex H Example of a risk register
  • References and useful sources of information
  • List of working party participants
  • List of abbreviations

The information contained in this report is intended to be used as general background information and is not to be relied on as definitive or comprehensive guidance in any particular circumstances. Higher education institutions are urged to seek their own legal and professional advice on any employment law or intellectual property law issues relevant to their own circumstances before acting on any guidance contained in this report. To the extent permitted by law, neither HEFCE nor any contributors to this report shall be liable to any person for any claims, costs, proceedings, losses, expenses, fees or damages whatsoever arising directly or indirectly from any error or omission (whether negligent or otherwise) contained in this report.

Executive summary


1. This is a good practice guide for higher education institutions on the management of intellectual property rights (IPR) in e learning programmes.

Key points

2. This guidance expands on HEFCE 2003/08 following further case studies carried out on intellectual property rights in e learning programmes, particularly overseas projects. Intrallect Ltd was commissioned to manage the case studies, which can be accessed on the Intrallect web-site (

3. A higher education institution's (HEI's) IPR management strategy will depend on the business model it uses in its e learning programme and its particular mission for the dissemination of knowledge. This guidance attempts to structure rights within such a framework. Following advice on IPR issues will allow institutions to protect their rights and those of their staff and students against third parties.

4. Every HEI needs to establish a clear, preferably plain English, IPR policy and disseminate it widely across the organisation, including IT guidelines and codes of practice for staff and students.

5. Every programme maker needs to follow a basic legal framework involving clear and straightforward contracts covering all its relevant relationships, from staff and end users to collaborators and overseas agents.

6. HEIs should own the IPR in the e learning materials created by their staff, and contracts of employment should make this explicit. This also applies to freelance and, where agreed by them, to student creators.

7. Where HEIs collaborate, a consortium agreement is necessary and should be agreed before any work commences.

8. Institutions also need to be mindful that while creating IPR they need to manage it in terms of respecting the IPR of third parties whose material they may utilise. Rights clearance can put a significant burden on an HEI's resources, so a risk assessment should be carried out before adopting a specific rights policy.

9. Licensing agreements should be used to protect the IPR in e learning material from abuse by end users and third-party suppliers such as local learning partners.

10. In an international context, an HEI should ensure that any contract specifies an agreed legal jurisdiction, preferably a UK one. In this way any dispute can at least be dealt with under familiar legislation.

11. The annexes include sample contracts and clauses to cover these legal relationships.

12. The detection and tackling of IPR infringement are a heavy burden on resources. We recommend the use of technological measures to protect IPR in UK and international programmes. Higher education institutions need to implement a risk register and use digital rights management to protect valuable IPR, and their reputations, from infringement.

13. This guide only touches on the area of commercial exploitation. There are few commercially successful examples of e learning programmes, and those HEIs that have had some success are unlikely to offer to share the secrets of their success. It may be desirable for an external body to provide aid in negotiating commercial deals on behalf of individual HEIs.

14. Higher education institutions need to make IPR management central to the planning and implementation of any e learning programme and staff training should be a priority in this regard. There is currently insufficient training for staff in handling IPR issues. There should be across the board training for all staff, as well as more specialised training for those working in rights clearance and those managing the creation of e learning programmes.

15. Institutions should be as keen to educate their authors about IPR as they are to claim ownership over the work their authors have created.

16. There is also a need for effective IPR tracking software to support staff clearing rights, and the process should be made as automated as possible. A clear audit trail needs to be kept.

17. Since the production of e learning materials is in its infancy it is appropriate that HEIs set up a reward system for staff involved in their production. This should act as an incentive to contribute to an activity which is not yet seen as an integral part of 'normal' duties.

18. If e learning material is produced as a result of special funding from public monies, then free licences to the community in the UK for use of that material are normal practice.

19. For ease of reference, key guidance statements in this report are shown as boxed text.

Action required

20. No action is required from institutions; this report is for information.