Are student works submitted for courses considered to be owned by the institution that is awarding course credit?

If not, would a blanket policy on reproduction of student works by the college, published in the college catalog, substitute for individual language to that effect in each course syllabus? What about student newspapers and alumni publications?

The student is the author and owns the copyright in works the student creates for courses. The fact that the institution is awarding credit is immaterial. If the institution wants to own the copyrights, it must obtain a written transfer of copyright from each of the students. A policy that permits the institution to reproduce student works does not affect copyright ownership but is instead in the nature of a license. Publishing a policy in the catalog likely would suffice to give the institution permission to reproduce the work, but it may not cover making the work available electronically since the U.S Supreme Court, in New York Times Co. v. Tasini, 533 U.S. 483 (2001), held that an author's electronic rights must be specifically transferred.

Typically, an educational institution owns the copyright in any of its official publications, whether they are printed works or websites. This includes catalogs, view books, histories of the institution written at the behest of the school, official web pages, and the like.

Works generated by groups such as student groups, faculty groups, and alumni organizations are most likely owned by the group. An academic institution may be able to claim copyright ownership of certain works by student groups that are generated at the request of the institution. For example, if the college or university asks the student government association to draft a code of conduct, the college or university might have some claims to the work. The same is true of faculty governance group work products. Student newspapers may also be owned by the university, but not definitely so.

Some alumni organizations are loosely governed by the academic institution; others are totally separate entities. Academic institutions have no claim of ownership on works generated by alumni associations that are separate entities.

What rights does an individual researcher who is an employee have to own the copyright in works she produced if the research is conducted, and resulting report or article created, in house?

The phrasing of this question leads one to assume that the copyrighted work is being created within a corporate environment. The

Copyright Act states that copyright belongs to the author, but if the work is a work made for hire, the employer is the author according to the Act. A work made for hire typically is one produced within the scope of someone's employment. Most corporations have internal employment policies that dictate that any copyrighted work produced by a corporate employee within the scope of his or her job belongs to the company. Even without such a policy, "scope of employment" likely means that any work produced (1) during work hours, (2) using any company resources, or (3) that is part of the job regardless of where and when it is developed, belongs to the company.

If "in house" in the question refers to a nonprofit organization, the copyright in any work created by an employee may belong to the organization, but not necessarily so. Many nonprofit libraries, such as public libraries, permit their employees to hold the copyright in works created, even within the scope of employment, as long as the library itself has the unfettered right to use the work.

A librarian has been asked to present a paper at a conference. The association that sponsors the conference has asked her to bring 25 copies of the paper to sell. What copyright symbol should be placed on the copies?

Although notice of copyright is no longer required, it is a good idea to include notice on such papers. As the author the librarian, not the association, owns the copyright. A notice alerts anyone who purchases the paper that the librarian holds copyright in the work. The notice is more than the "symbol." It consists of three elements: (1) the "C" in a circle (), the word "copyright," or the abbreviation "copr."; (2) the name of the copyright holder; and (3) the year of first publication.

The editors of an academic volume that will be published in October 2010 ask why the publisher wants to include in the copyright notice the year 2011 rather than 2010. The publisher says that it is normal practice for volumes published in the second half of the year to have a copyright date of the following year. Is this a problem? What happens if someone plagiarizes from the work in the two months before the copyright date?

Actually, this is a common practice, and it does not make much difference for copyright protection. The copyright notice really has nothing to do with protecting the work. The Copyright Act of 1976 protects works from the time they are "created" and fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Thus, the individual chapters or articles are protected from the point of fixation. Assuming that the work is a compilation or collective work (such as a journal issue with separately authored chapters or articles), it is protected for 95 years after date of first publication or 120 years after creation, whichever comes first. Using the date of 2011 rather than 2010 actually gives one additional year of protection for the compilation or collective work since the copyright does not expire until the last day of the year 95 years after 2011, or 2106. However, with such a long term of protection, whether the copyright expires in 2105 or 2106 does not make much difference.

Plagiarism is not a copyright issue, but reproduction is. If an author reproduces portions of an article written by another author and incorporates the reproduced material into another work, that is copyright infringement. If a publisher registers a work for copyright within three months after publication, then not only can the publisher sue any infringers, but it may recover statutory damages and attorneys' fees.

Thus, there is no disadvantage to authors when publishers use a copyright date that is a little later than the actual publication date. It is a common practice.

 
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