Who owns your final exam?

I was chatting with a colleague and our conversation drifted into some local history of students sharing past final exams electronically with each other. Then we stumbled onto an interesting question: who owns your final exam?

The teacher or the school board owns it

On the face of things, either you (the teacher, I’m talking to) or your school board own the intellectual property rights. As I understand it (I’m not a legal expert, folks!), if you create your exam on your own time, with your own resources (say, not using a board computer), then you own 100% of the rights to your exam. If you use board equipment and/or time, the board owns it. Exams are often reviewed/edited by multiple people, which could make things a little murky.

This question also comes up when teachers/school boards want to monetize their work (e.g. sell a lesson plan online, publish a book of assessment tasks, etc.).

If you use board equipment on your own time, I dunno. That’s complicated. Probably there would have to be an agreement between parties (ha ha ha).

The student owns it

But what if the student answers a question you ask on your exam? You certainly don’t have the rights to that student’s response, do you? Doesn’t the student retain ownership of their intellectual property (even if it’s something like their thoughts on symbolism in Divergent, or a solution to a physics problem)?

Okay, so it’s both?

The questions are yours or your board’s. The answers are the students. I think that makes sense, and seems fair (at least to me).

The document itself

But if the student wrote answers on a piece of paper that has your prompting questions on it — then what? Who owns that document? Is it a collaboration at that point? Do you and the student together have to make decisions regarding further publication and distribution? Does fair use allow students to publish their response with your question without seeking your permission?

Retaining all copies

Many schools have a policy of not returning final exams to students. This isn’t about intellectual property; it’s about preventing academic dishonesty (“cheating”) and reducing planning workload. I’m not in favour of this practice, in general. You’re welcome to try to change my mind, of course. I teach math, though, so maybe my stuff is more safely reusable anyway.

What to do

If you want the most control over your work, create your stuff on your own equipment and on your own time. Of course, that might make it difficult to collaborate with other colleagues, which is probably more important.

I’d advocate for returning students’ work to them as well; they invested time and effort, and you shouldn’t take it from them. If their work is too dangerous for other students to see later, you might want to revisit your final summative assessment practices.


85% of Content Sites Respect Copyright – Very Small Case Study


Facepalm by Brandon Grasley via Flickr

I recently had cause to reuse the image above, and while searching for the original came across a small surprise – the image has been used quite a few times on various blogs, news sites, and more.

Most of these articles are of the “someone did something dumb and we’re calling them on it” variety. I counted 26 uses in total (thank you Google Image Search), and 22 of those had nicely attributed the image to me, thereby honouring the Creative Commons licence I applied to the image when I posted it.

Four sites did not.

85% of the sites did the right thing, but 15% made a boo-boo. I have contacted the offending sites or the article authors where possible. Not because I’m trying to monetize my exceptionally valuable intellectual property here (I’m not), but because some people are, and they deserve to have their rights respected. A little awareness-building, you know?

Three fixed it on the same day.

Actually, one has promised to and apparently hasn’t gotten around to it yet. I’m hopeful. (Update: the author attributed the photo to me later that day)

Another one replied to my email (the CEO replied, in fact), had to contact their marketing department, who contacted their writing contractor, who fixed it by properly attributing the photo and linking the way I asked them to. Beauty.

A third simply removed the article from their site. Not what I asked for, but it was a cross-post anyway, so no harm done, I suppose.

That makes me feel pretty good about where we are.

Admittedly, these are mostly companies, bloggers, or professional journalists who have made use of the image online. There are possibly lots of folks who have used it in local PowerPoint presentations (having a bad quarter, maybe?) without proper attribution; I’ll certainly never see those.

I often find a more willy-nilly approach to IP and attribution among coworkers, but I was surprised to see how well things are going on the web in general.

So, there’s your good news story for today. No need to facepalm over this one. Thanks, Internet.