Otago Polytechnic: An IP policy for the times

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An intellectual property policy for our times

In Dunedin near the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, the Otago Polytechnic has recently given birth to a thoroughly modern Intellectual Property Policy


Entrance to the Otago Polytechnic


Otago Polytechnic has recently instituted an Intellectual Property Policy supporting free and open access to material through the “Creative Commons” attribution process. Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright (all rights reserved) and the public domain (no rights reserved). Its licences help you to retain copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright. Otago uses The NZ creative commons attribution licence. This allows others to copy, distribute and transmit and adapt the work but only if they give credit in the form requested. The policy vests ownership of intellectual property (IP) in the creators. Because this policy won’t suit all circumstances there’s provision for negotiation of contracts specifying exceptions to the policy.


To ensure the values of New Zealand’s Maori are protected and to accommodate a different concept of ownership, a Maori IP policy was developed in consultation with the local Maori Ngai Tahu law office. Broadly speaking, the Polytechnic’s role in this area is one of guardianship of Maori IP and knowledge. The concept of guardianship has also been extended to students’ IP.


Dr Robin Day, Deputy Chief Executive. "The new IP Policy reflects our preference for open sharing of information, knowledge and resources'. Image courtesy of Otago Polytechnic
Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Robin Day, told the story of the evolution of the policy.


Prior to this the Polytechnic had no formal policy on IP and, when the Executive saw the need to fill this gap, they sought legal expertise to help draw up an initial framework to put out for consultation. According to this initial and very different framework, Otago Polytechnic owned copyright of material developed at the institution. The reaction was vociferous with some staff saying, “You’re not owning my thinking! If that’s the case, I’ll do what’s required for my job and do my really creative thinking at home! “ Some students also protested that in that case, they’d do what was required to get a qualification, but would keep their best work to themselves because they wanted to be able to set up their own companies to develop their ideas after they finished study.” From an educational perspective it seemed that a policy of taking ownership of people’s intellectual property could constrain learning and knowledge development.


Two years of debate followed with much of the input coming from those with a high stake in IP – the Art, Design and IT Schools who are the main creators in the institution. Phil Ker (the Chief Executive) and Robin engaged with those interested, going to meetings and involving them with the drafting and redrafting of the policy. Staff at the Polytechnic come from right across the spectrum from those wanting full copyright through those who want to share some material to those who see themselves as battling the anomolies that have arisen in the digital age, and as fighting for the freedom of more accessible learning and a more open society.


The Executive of Otago Polytechnic comprises people whose core experience and qualifications are in education. The new IP policy reflects their “preference for the open sharing of information, knowledge and resources” and is in harmony with the Polytechnic’s philosphy of looking at learning from the learners’ perspective and initiatives such as recognition of prior learning.


Ensuring everybody is aware of the policy and that policies, strategies and action plans are all aligned is an enormous job and a long process. Despite attempts to inform and involve everyone in the process, for some people copyright and IP only surfaces on the consciousness when it impinges on them. In these cases, the negotiation process is still available on a case-by-case basis. Research and ethical concerns, for example, often need careful treatment. Robin directs inquirers to the policy before discussing options and, where appropriate, authorising contracts specifying conditions of ownership and copyright of the IP.


Many staff express the fear that people will no longer enrol in courses if their material is freely available but others point out that most students want a qualification. Robin says “ We see it as a way of attracting people to come because they can see the sort of material we provide. WikiEducator provides a forum where we can build the reputation of our institution, its engagement with the community and with businesses. Rather than dissuading people from coming, it provides subtle marketing where people can see our work and decide they want to come to us in an open way.” Hillary Jenkins, who runs the Travel and Tourism Diploma, bears this out saying that showing her online materials is very effective during open and schools days designed to attract students to the Polytechnic.


The Creative Commons Attribution licence has a number of advantages in the digital world. Robin says, “It enables us now to engage more freely in different ways of teaching and learning through the online tools like WikiEducators, blogs, YouTube, Myspace.”


There’s a lot of emphasis on research in tertiary education and the IP Policy could impact on publication. Robin says that publishing papers is like working with external clients. "We have to walk in different worlds. If it’s our stuff we’ve got the creative commons attribution. That’s our default. With external publishers, if necessary we’ll accept their copyright restrictions, although if we’re able to negotiate we will." He points out that there are now databases and journals moving into the creative commons attribution process. “The drivers must be changing as the open source journals become more credible. They probably realise they will end up losing business if they don’t do something about it, so the whole business model will change."


The policy enables Polytechnic staff to publish and disseminate research findings freely without compromising their intellectual property rights. The Educational Development Centre’s Leigh Blackall, who is passionate about the pedagogy and potential of online tools, publishes on a variety of open platforms, such as WikiBooks, blogs and WikiEducator. Bronwyn Hegarty, an educational developer who works with Leigh, has collaborated on several New Zealand government funded projects where open licensing of research processes and findings and online resources is important so others in the tertiary sector can access them.

The Polytechnic publishes an international online journal “Junctures” that’s very successful. It’s multi-disciplinary and thematic. Interestingly, when we looked at the copyright of the journal – although it shows the all rights reserved artefact from pre-IP Policy days – the individual articles and works have always remained the property of the authors.

Robin says that the policy fits with NZ Government’s desire to encourage technology transfer between the marketplace and the tertiary sector. “This IP policy removes barriers to that. Our graduates take their IP with them into the marketplace. If they want to develop it, we’re more than happy to work with them and they often come back and work with us. Our Industrial prototyping design facility now has about 60 businesses coming in and out of it. They know their IP’s protected. They want to use our equipment, our staff, and technical skills and blend it with what they’re doing. They’re paying, so that’s a benefit for us, but the huge benefit is our reputation as the key leader in this development in this region.”

The conditions are also attracting some people from universities despite the fact that polytechnics are in some regards considered second class. Otago Polytechnic engages in research and scholarly activity, and has Performance Based Research Funding. Robin says, “Some people are saying, I like this working environment. It’s less structured. It’s more open. We’ve had people who've said, 'I like working here because the research conditions are actually better.' That’s cool.”


The Polytechnic is pleased to have WikiEducator as a platform. It’s not leaping willy-nilly into whatever is available. There is evaluation and discussion about suitability and reliability. WikiEducator is one of the platforms recommended because it’s very strong and it’s building and growing. While some people still have concerns, many like the fact that it is an initiative of the Commonwealth of Learning, that it’s not a for-profit organization, it’s got different ideals, is a family of educators and is quite different from some of the other online spaces. The Polytechnic recommends WikiEducator because it subscribes to the free cultural works definition which supports both the CC-BY (in accordance with the Polytechnic's IP Policy) and CC-BY-SA licenses.


You can find more information on developments at Otago Polytechnic in Leigh Blackall's article which originally appeared in Terra Incognita, Penn State's World Campus blogsite, on Leigh's blogand on Bronwyn's blog.