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Scholarly Communications: Copyright Ownership Scenarios

One stop shop for scholarly publishing and communication practices within the academy.

Ownership Scenarios

Traditional Work of Scholarship
Dr. F. is a faculty member. She has written an article without additional direction or support from the university and has submitted it to a scholarly journal for publication. The publisher has accepted the article and asked Dr. F. to transfer her copyright to the publisher. May Dr. F. do so? Should she check with her department head or someone else at UNC first?

Answer:  Dr. F. has written a traditional, non-directed work of scholarship. UNC does not claim ownership of such works when faculty or non-faculty EPA employees produce them. This means that Dr. F. is free to transfer her copyright to the publisher. At the same time, she should remember that she is deemed to have granted UNC a “non-exclusive, non-transferable, royalty-free license to use the work for its own educational or research use unless such a license will impede scholarly publication or similar activities.” Therefore, Dr. F. should make an effort to preserve that right for the university when she signs a contract with her publisher.

In addition, she should remember that, pursuant to Faculty Resolution 2005-7, faculty “should retain ownership and use open access publication venues whenever possible.”

Exceptional Use of University Resources
Dr. P. is a faculty member who has written a textbook that promises to be a best-seller for many years to come and provide significant royalties. When Dr. P. was writing the textbook, he made arrangements with his department to reduce his teaching load and office hours for a year. He received no other direction or funding from the University while writing the book. Now that the textbook is finished, who owns the copyright in it? Who should get the royalties?

Answer:  Dr. P. should consult with the chair of his department. If the arrangement to reduce his teaching load and office hours constituted an exceptional use of University resources, the University owns the textbook rights. However, in consultation with the Director of the Office of Technology Development, it may be possible that the work will be released to Dr. P. or be considered a work of joint authorship. Depending on the outcome, Dr. P. may either need to reimburse the University for resources expended or share royalties with the University.

Note:  It is desirable to come to a clear agreement with the department chair before beginning this kind of project.

Directed Work  
Dr. S. works for a center at UNC that develops multi-cultural curricula for use in schools throughout the nation. The center has a rule that the university owns the copyrights in projects developed by its faculty, staff, and students. Through many hours of hard work, Dr. S. and J.A., a graduate student, have developed a showcase curriculum that many schools throughout the nation want to implement. Dr. S. and Ms. A. would like to form a partnership to market and sell the curriculum. If they can’t do this, they would at least like to be able to use the curriculum in their own teaching and research, even after Ms. A. finishes her Ph.D. and gets a job at another university. What rights do Dr. S. and Ms. A. have in their work?

Answer: The University owns the curriculum. If the department chair and the Director of the Office of Technology Development determine that it is feasible, the rights could be released to Dr. S. and Ms. A. or arrangements could be made for them to own the rights jointly with the University. Even if Dr. S. and Ms. A. do not own the rights outright or own the rights jointly with the University, they may still use the curriculum for their own teaching and research.

One More Question: So does that mean that Dr. S. and Ms. A. will never see a penny of the royalties after all their work?

Answer:  Not necessarily. If the University chooses to commercialize the work, then Dr. S. and Ms. A. will receive a percentage of the royalties.

Grant-Funded Work
Dr. M. has received a grant to develop a protocol and accompanying guide to drastically reduce the likelihood that patients will contract a virulent communicable disease when they are in the hospital. Who owns the copyright?

Answer: Unless the grant agreement specifies otherwise, Dr. M. owns the copyright.

Another Question: Dr. M. has been told that the protocol and guide have a significant commercial value, but he is not sure how to go about assessing that and marketing the work. Will the University help him, and will he still own the work if it does?

Answer:  Dr. M. may get help with commercializing the work from the Office of Technology Development. If the Office agrees to commercialize the work, Dr. M. will need to assign his rights to the University. Under the usual procedure, he and his department would each receive a percentage of the proceeds

SPA Employees’ Work
C.J. is an SPA employee who writes computer code. He has completed a significant programming job that will revolutionize many functions at UNC and may be marketed throughout higher education. Who owns the copyright?

Answer:  The University owns the copyright unless the University made a different arrangement with Mr. J. before he started the project or unless the University waives ownership.

Student Work
D.B. is a student who has written a really top-notch paper. Her professor would like to put it on the departmental website to showcase student work. Who owns the copyright in the paper?

Answer:  Ms. B. is the copyright owner. Although Ms. B.’s professor may use her paper for pedagogical activity, best practice would be for the professor should to ask her permission before posting the paper on the website. Ms. B.’s professor should not use the paper for commercial purposes without Ms. B.’s permission.

Selling Student Notes
B.A. takes really good notes, and he is taking some really hard classes this semester. His notes are in high demand, and he is considering selling them to make some extra money. Does he own the copyright in his notes? Can he sell them?

Answer:  Mr. A. owns the copyright in his notes, but under the UNC-Chapel Hill Copyright Policy, he may not sell them.

Independent Contractors’ Work
A.E. is a freelance artist. A department at UNC has hired Mr. E. as an independent contractor to illustrate a publication they are issuing. Who will own the illustrations he creates?

Answer:   No department or unit at UNC should hire an independent contractor without an agreement that the University will own the work that the independent contractor creates. Failure to do so may result in the independent contractor owning the work and not the University.