Remote Teaching and Learning: Intellectual Property

Produced by the Secretariat in consultation with Legal and Immigration Services and the Office of the Associate Vice-President, Academic (May 22, 2020)

If you have questions about Policy 73, please contact

If you have questions specifically about copyrighted materials you wish to use in your course, please contact

For many faculty members, the shift to remote teaching from in-person teaching is new. This new way of sharing course content and interacting with students has understandably prompted questions, not only about how to do the foregoing in an effective way given the challenging context, but also the implications for intellectual property rights.

This guidance identifies the applicable governing policies and statements, confirms that those documents apply in the same way to remote teaching as they do to in-person teaching, and highlights issues for consideration or further research. If you have any questions about this guidance document or any of the policies and statements referenced in this guidance document, please contact the relevant offices named below.

Current policy governing intellectual property rights at the University of Waterloo

Policy 73 – Intellectual Property Rights outlines the University of Waterloo’s approach to intellectual property generated while working at the University. It is important to understand that this policy is situated within an extensive and complex body of law, which has evolved since the last Policy update and continues to evolve.

The following is a short summary of the key provisions of Policy 73 as they apply to teaching materials. See the policy for details.

  1. Intellectual property in work created as part of “assigned tasks” (e.g., preparation of memoranda, administrative reports, course outlines, mid-term and final examinations, assignments, and laboratory manuals) belongs to the University.
  2. Intellectual property in “scholarly work” that does not fall into the definition of “assigned tasks” is owned by the creators of that work, with the following exceptions and notes:
    1. In order to give effect to the principle that “an academic community values openness, sharing of ideas, and scholarly activity, and its primary goals are to increase and disseminate knowledge,” creators of scholarly works grant the University a non-exclusive, free, irrevocable license to copy and/or use such works within the University. Note: This license does not permit the University or any of its employees to share the creators’ intellectual property outside the University for commercial or other purposes without the express, written agreement of the creator(s).
    2. When creators develop fully online course offerings with the professional assistance of the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) or a similar faculty-specific unit, a standard agreement governs that work whereby the creator licenses the online course exclusively to the University for a certain length of time. This reflects the resources contributed by the University in the development, marketing, technological, and operational support for that course.

Additional considerations impacting intellectual property

When you move from in-person teaching to remote teaching, the rights and obligations under Policy 73 stay the same. However, the shift from in-person to online teaching in response to the contextual restrictions posed by a worldwide pandemic raises new considerations and potential challenges:

  1. When you make materials available electronically, it becomes easier for them to be shared by end users. Ensure that students are aware of that they do not have the right to share the course materials with others under intellectual property law. Appendix A includes some boilerplate language you can use in your course outline and other materials.
  2. Materials made publicly viewable on the internet (e.g., in a video or on a website) can expose the University to intellectual property lawsuits if the appropriate clearances and licenses haven’t been obtained. Make sure to contact before using materials to which you don’t own the copyright.
  3. Students own the intellectual property in their own scholarly work, e.g., responses to questions, assignments and essays. You should not share a student’s work with other students (e.g., as a sample) without obtaining that student’s permission.
  4. While the campus is teaching and learning remotely, academic units should have a plan to deal with using and modifying teaching materials in the event there is a need or desire to re-use the content in later terms or other courses, or a faculty member becomes incapacitated during the term and the assets are not complete or require updates. In particular, source materials should be accessible to the academic unit, and colleagues should be given permission to add to or modify the materials in agreed on circumstances.