Copyright Policy: Background and FAQs

Intellectual property is traditionally divided into patents, trademarks, and copyright. The general "default" rule of the law of copyright is that an employer owns all copyright to works created within an employee's scope of employment (i.e., "work for hire” doctrine--see Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101). The University of Minnesota's intellectual property is governed by two Board of Regents Policies: Copyright and Commercialization of Intellectual Property (patents and ownership, commercialization, and dissemination of intellectual property rights in technology).

The Board policy on copyright and the related administrative policy on Copyright Ownership affirm the University’s recognition of, and commitment to, an important exception to the default rule for copyright ownership. In the case of scholarly and pedagogical works of faculty, the proposed new policy changes this default rule. A central—and explicit—principle of the new policy (III 2) is that" The University shall maintain the strong academic tradition that vests copyright ownership in works of scholarship in the faculty."

For more guidance on copyright, please see the FAQs below, or consult the University Libraries' Copyright Services.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1) Do I own copyright in my course?

To be copyrightable, a work must be “fixed in tangible form”—that is, it cannot be oral. Thus, “courses” are not copyrightable as a general matter. Course materials (syllabus, class notes, etc) of sufficient originality can be copyrightable and as academic works, copyright in such materials belongs to the faculty member.

2) For the University to own a directed work, must the agreement be in writing?

No. However, administrators and faculty are encouraged to memorialize agreements in writing.

3) What are "substantial resources” under this policy?

The substantial resources threshold will vary by college, department, unit and context. At the broad policy level it would be unwise to try to capture such a variety of potential situations. However, resources beyond the normal provision made to faculty members is, at a minimum, a threshold factor in this determination. Remember also that the other two criteria (request and agreement by the faculty member) must be satisfied for a work to qualify as “directed” under this policy.

4) If as a faculty member I am directed to create something by my department chair or dean does the University then own it under the “directed works” provision of this policy?

No, the directed work provision of the policy requires that each of three criteria be met.

5) I'm a faculty member and I've created online materials for my course. Who owns these?

The faculty member owns copyright to all academic works, regardless of their form.

6) If I own the copyright to my syllabus, can the University change the content without my permission?

No. Doing so would implicate academic freedom issues in addition to possible copyright concerns.

7) Is software considered an academic work under this policy?

Software can implicate both copyright and patent rights. A recent revision to the copyright ownership administrative policy clarified that while patent rights in software are retained by the University (see Board of Regent policy: Commercialization of Intellectual Property Rights), the copyright in software created as an academic work would be owned by the faculty creator(s).

8) By Unit do you mean Department or College?

For purposes of defining what constitutes scholarly work in a particular discipline a faculty member’s Unit is usually the Department.  For Schools without Departments, the Unit would be the College.

9) Would copyright in teaching materials incorporated in an online course vest in the faculty or the University?

Copyright in preexisting academic works belong to the faculty whether or not they are incorporated in an online course. The format of the course material does not determine its copyright status.

10) Can a faculty member who leaves the employment of the University continue to use syllabi, teaching notes, photos etc that have been incorporated in an online course at the U?

Yes.  A faculty member retains copyright in these materials created regardless of whether those works have been integrated into an online course at the U.

11) Can I teach the course outside the University while still a faculty member at the University?

This would be governed by the Conflict of Interest policy. 

12) If a librarian or other professional/academic staff publishes an article in a scholarly journal, who owns the copyright?

To the extent to which non-faculty academic appointments fall within the “faculty like” definition, these individuals would have copyright in the scholarly works they produce. If the work is outside the normal scope of the individual’s appointment, the work would also belong to the creator. Works created within the scope of employment by individuals who do not have faculty or faculty-like appointments would be owned by the University.