Copyright Infringement IS Illegal

Just when I think that the training world understands a simple concept within the instructional design process, I discover another company that has made someone else’s copyright their own property.  Hello?  Copyright Infringement is illegal!

Let’s begin with the understanding that when you create a training program for your company, they own the copyright as their intellectual property.  You work for them and therefore do not own any part of the content.  This means that without the expressed written permission, no one but this company owns the intellectual property and can use it again.

While it is a little less of an issue that you can’t take a training vendor’s program and copy and paste it into your own design, somehow it becomes a little more of a murky issue when it is custom work created by and for a company.  Unless a company was dissolved without consideration of their intellectual property, it is taboo to reuse it again.  Most companies that are dissolved are purchased by another company, and it would be extremely rare that the attorneys failed to not include intellectual property in that buy out agreement.

And that is the case this week.  Company A created a series of custom courses for their employee training.  Company A later went out of business and was purchased by Company B.  Yet employees that worked for Company A are now working for Company C and magically the same training materials are being used.  The brief consideration of copyright was that it was okay since Company A was no longer in business.  Wrong!  Company B now owns the copyright and never gave Company C permission to use their intellectual content.

Multi-million dollar lawsuits can result in copyright infringement cases, and yet inexperienced training managers use these shortcuts in developing training programs because they don’t think they will be caught.  And ignorance of the law is not an excuse, so companies should be concerned if their training departments are plagiarizing and stealing content from other organizations.

Company C above also felt that since they only inserted the company’s name on the training materials, without any reference to claiming copyright that somehow it avoided copyright infringement.  Wrong again!  You don’t have to steal an entire series of modules like they did to be guilty of copyright infringement, a single exercise can be enough to lose that argument.  And gee, it would seem they did think about who owned the content at one point.

I’m in the process of trying to help Company C discover the error of their ways.  Associates of mine have suggested that I should go directly to Company B and turn them in.  I think there must be a middle ground.  The longer this goes on the worse it becomes.  What I think should happen is an immediate cease and desist of using the materials, and holding the training manager responsible, up to and including termination.

I’m open to suggestions here with your comments.


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