teachers ownership of intellectual property

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  • Hi,

    As a newbie, I hope I'm posting this correctly. As briefly as possible, we have 3 teachers who wrote articles that our development department gave to an outside organization to re-publish. This second organization then released the articles to a third party to publish. The third party is a private entrepreneur who published the articles listing our 3 teachers and our school, so that it appears our school endorses this third party. Do our teachers have any recourse? Is there something we should put in writting at the district level to avoid this in the future? Thanks for any help or insights, its wonderful to have this resource! -jm
  • Hi,

    Welcome to the CAN forum.

    The answer to your questions depends, in part, on whether these articles can be considered "works for hire" -- i.e., were they created within the scope of the teachers' employment, or were these articles they researched and wrote on their own time, using their own resources, etc.?

    If the articles are works for hire, then the employer would own the copyright to these articles--though I don't know if the employer in this case would be the school, the school district, or some other entity. The employer as copyright owner would have legal recourse if the articles were used by this third party without its permission, but not the individual teachers. (However, if the teachers' names were used and they had some objection to this, perhaps that provides them with legal options that I'm not aware of or particularly versed in, such as defamation or invasion of privacy.)

    If the teachers at your school want to make an exception and retain their rights to articles they write in the scope of their regular employment duties, then my understanding is that, yes, they would have to get this in writing. I work at a public university where the faculty retain the rights to their writings and research, but this is explicitly provided for in our campus' intellectual property policy. I believe such arrangements are common at the higher ed level, but I don't know if they are even a realistic option in primary and secondary education, where the instructors don't typically face the same publish-or-perish imperative as college instructors. Maybe your union could look into the possibility of such a policy?
  • Thank you! That does help clarify the situation. -jm
  • Thank you! That does help clarify the situation. -jm
    The other thing to check is what rights were transferred from your group to the second party, and make sure that the second party had the right to allow the third party to publish in the first place.
  • That's what we're trying to figure out now. At this time, we don't believe the second party did have the right to release the articles to the third party. Although its too late to put the toothpast back in the tube, we are trying to avoid this happening in the future. We're also not clear what rights our teachers gave up to the second party. We'd like to create something in writing to use in the future. Thanks for your insights.
  • A few additional points.

    If the teachers hold the copyright to their work (and it is not work performed as part of their regular employment), they had to sign a document in order to transfer any rights to anyone. They should have a copy of that document. If there is no signed document, then nothing was transferred and both the second and third party are liable for copyright infringement.

    Exclusive rights of copyright are divisible. So it is possible to transfer just one right - like the right of distribution - to another. This must be in writing and is in effect a contract.

    In the future, your teachers' copyrighted works should include the notice of copyright (although it is not required by law). "C" in a circle date and name.
    This will alert others to the fact that the teachers are claiming copyright.

    If they want to work with a publisher to publish their works, they can limit what the publisher can do with the work in the contract. For example, the contract might say that the publisher has the right of "first distribution only" or "first publication only" and cannot transfer that right to anyone else without the copyright holder's consent. In this way, the publisher is under a contract that limits what he can do.

    It is a good idea to be aggressive with publication contracts. You can write in your terms. You do not need a lawyer to do this.

    -carrie r
  • Thank you for your insightful post. You've given us some more areas to gather information on. -jm

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