Intellectual Property

Sky Appears to Be Falling on Higher Education Copyright Policies

I'm designating myself the Chicken Little of academic copyrights. Last week, I wrote about the lecture note monkeyshines at UC Berkley, where students are restricted from note sharing because of instructor copyrights. This week, I look up and see the sky falling at the University of Louisiana. There, it's the faculty, not the students, seeking sanctuary from the University's copyright policy.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Louisiana's intellectual property policy can be read as giving the University a stake in royalties - up to 60% -- from faculty books and artistic works. As written in the UL System Intellectual Property Policy (posted by the University of Louisiana-Lafayette's Office of the Vice President for Research):

In cases where the institution retains ownership of an intellectual property from a creator or creators, and/or expends funds to develop and market the intellectual property, any royalties generated will be used first to cover the expenses of filing, procuring, maintaining, and marketing the intellectual property. Forty percent of the net royalties will be paid to the creator, and sixty percent will be retained by the institution from which the intellectual property originated.

To date, the University has not asserted the policy, but with budget shortfalls looming, some fear that the day of 60%-reckoning will soon come. If the day does come, it will be a step towards narrowing the divide between academic inventors and academic authors. As the Chronicle notes:

While universities routinely require revenue sharing when a scientific or technological breakthrough using university resources is patented, such claims usually don't extend to the kind of work produced by humanities scholars.

Adding to the entanglement is a requirement that before publication, faculty must submit a publication contract to the University. The University would then have up to four months to decide if it had an ownership right, which, because of the delay, could lead to a censorship claim.

Proponents note that the policy cannot be applied ad infinitum. According to the UL System IP Policy:

In the case of traditional academic copyrightable work that involves significant institutional resource contributions, the institution shall reserve the right to secure rights (including but not limited to joint ownership), for example, to use the work and to recover its investment, in a contract with the creator. If a project involves the use of significant institutional resources, the creator and the institution shall agree before the project begins on the use of facilities, allocation of rights to use the work, and recovery of expenses and/or sharing of benefits from commercialization of the work.

(emphasis added)

The "institutional resources" language provides a limitation, but some question what this actually means. Does a book involve significant institutional resource contributions if authored at a campus library? Or what about a pot fired in a campus kiln?

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