Monday, September 7, 2009

Faculty and commons-based peer production?

Pavig Lok's "Intellectual Property Garden...Image by Bettina Tizzy via Flickr

Most universities stake a claim to the intellectual property of their faculty by declaring that it is a work for hire:

A work made for hire is an exception to the general rule that the person who actually creates a work is the legally-recognized author of that work. According to copyright law in the United States and certain other copyright jurisdictions, if a work is "made for hire", the employer—not the employee—is considered the legal author.

In other words, the faculty member isn't the legal copyright holder, the university is.

My question, does this make it impossible for faculty to participate in commons-based peer-production? If the university holds an all-rights-reserved copyright to a faculty member's creations, and that faculty member is expected to do outreach as part of the terms of their employment (true for most faculty today), then it would stand to reason that faculty would be prohibited from contributing to an entity such as Wikipedia that uses a Creative Commons license.

I sent these questions to my university's copyright librarian for clarification. I'm anxious to see the response. The very idea of expecting faculty to engage with the public, and at the same time having copyright policies that effectively prevent them from doing so seems absurd.

I'll keep you posted on what I learn.

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john said...

I recently had a similar conversation with someone in the technology transfer office here at Oregon State. He pointed me to their policies online, one of which reads,
"Copyright ownership resides with the originator of the work if the work is...Scholarly/Aesthetic Work:
Work originated by someone who holds an academic teaching/research faculty appointment, as a result of independent academic effort."

The key word here is independent, if the work was paid for by a "sponsor" then the University can hold onto the rights of that work.

This reads to me, and to the person at the transfer office, that participating in social networks would fall under this policy. The rest is a good read: (make sure to scroll down to find the text)

Kevin Gamble said...

That's how ours read until last year when the university excepted people with Extension appointments. They created this policy so as to not lose the rights to modify and create derivative works of Extension faculty after those faculty members retire, move on, etc. Of course, they could have just as easily adopted a CC-by-SA and accomplished the same thing.


dbt said...

Pretty much any place you're taking money from someone in exchange for production of intellectual property of some sort you should sort this stuff out ahead of time. I don't see how Universities (at least the modern, 10% increase in tuition per year, incarnation) would be any different. Sadly.

Kevin Gamble said...


That would be true. In this instance the "rules" were changed last year. So after 17 years of living under a very progressive copyright the institution took a big step back. I really don't know how faculty, in this particular instance, can even do their jobs. I'm considering another blog post that actually points out a couple of really interesting examples of people doing their jobs in interesting and progressive ways that under these new rules wouldn't be allowed. I don't think that "looking the other way" is a workable policy for where we're headed.


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