Who owns the blog Ellis wrote?
Before she started medical school Ellis worked as a lab assistant on campus. Although it wasn’t part of the duties for most lab assistants, Dr. Frye, the faculty member who ran the lab, learned that Ellis was a good writer, and asked her to write blog posts for the lab as part of her “other duties as assigned.” The blog, which is called “Under the Microscope,” is still very popular, even though Ellis no longer has time to write for it. In fact, a major book publisher is interested in publishing a book of essays based on the blog.
Neither Ellis nor her former supervisor is quite sure—who owns the blog content? Does Ellis? Does the university? Does the department own it?
Acton wonders: Are publications of state agricultural statistics in the public domain?
Acton has been working as a research assistant at the library, helping digitize content that is in high demand or is brittle. Lately, she’s been given a project to digitize a large collection. They are compilations of agricultural statistics from throughout the twentieth century published by what is now called the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, a state agency. Mostly, they include tables of information on crop yields, farm statistics, water use, and so on. Some have no copyright designation. Others say “©North Carolina Department of Agriculture, 19--.”
Acton asks her supervisor if the publications are still in copyright. “No,” says Acton’s supervisor decisively, “They are all in the public domain.”
Are they in the public domain? Why?
Cast of Characters
Patrick and Maria Bell are both tenured professors at the university. Patrick teaches in the English department and Maria teaches in the mathematics department. Maria’s field of mathematics is combinatorics. Patrick’s specialty is the 19th century and the Brönte sisters, as you can see from the names of his children:
* Currer Bell, age 30, is a PhD student in comparative literature and a teaching assistant.
* Ellis Bell, age 27, is a master’s student at SILS and a research assistant in the library.
* Acton Bell, age 25, is a student at the medical school. Before she started medical school she worked full-time in a lab at the university.
* Brandon Bell, age 32, has various on-again, off-again occupations as an artist, composer, musician, stand-up comedian, and college student.
Currer’s dispute: What can be copyrighted and who owns my work?
Currer has been very upset lately. She loves teaching and takes her teaching duties very seriously. She spent a lot of time devising an innovative syllabus and new method for teaching her favorite class, Fantastical Boundaries: Utopias and Dystopias in World Literature. Currer has a good relationship with most of her colleagues among the teaching assistants, but one is her nemesis—Snidely Wittenberg. Snidely rubs her the wrong way, and she feels that he takes without giving credit to others.
To Currer’s dismay, Snidely was scheduled to teach Fantastical Worlds last semester. He asked to see her syllabus in advance, and Currer reluctantly gave him a copy. By all accounts, the class went really well, and Snidely accepted much praise and recognition without ever giving Currer any credit for the approach she had developed. She tried to rise above her jealousy and anger when she found out that Snidely’s success with the class had led an invitation to give a workshop on teaching methods at a prestigious conference. But her feelings reached a peak when she found out that Snidely had received a handsome honorarium for the workshop.
Currer is particularly pressed for money right now because her car’s transmission is shot and recently she lent her improvident brother Brandon a large sum of money to get his teeth fixed. (As usual, Brandon spent the money on beer and a new amp for his bass, and his teeth are still a mess.)
One evening at the apartment the three sisters share, Currer started to cry and told Ellis and Acton about the situation. “This has got to be illegal,” said Acton, “I think it’s copyright infringement.”
“I’m not so sure,” replied Ellis. “And besides, is he ripping you off, Currer, or is he ripping off the university?”
Snidely’s deeds are dastardly. But are they copyright infringement?