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Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Copyright Act is a federal statute. It protects nearly all original works “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” This includes article, books, movies, music, and web sites. Digital creations are protected by copyright law as well.

Work should be “original” and display “at least some minimal degree of creativity”. In the academic world, Copyright Act protects the EXPRESSION of facts or ideas as embodied in a work but not the underlying facts or ideas.

Owner of the copyright work has the exclusive right to:

· make copies of the work;

· distribute the work;

· display or perform the work publicly; and

· create derivative works based on the original work, such as adapting a novel into a movie, translating a work into a foreign language, or otherwise modifying a work.

The copyright in a work is usually owned by the author with exceptions. When a work is created within the scope of one’s employment, or “ordered or commissioned for use as” some specific circumstances defined by Copyright Act, ownership does not belong to the author, but the employer or whoever commissions the work. No affirmative steps are needed to establish the ownership rights. The Copyright Act, however, provides that a company or more than one person may own the work jointly.

Faculty members are employees of a university and the work is created in the scope of their employment, but it is not always the case that the university owns the copyright in the material faculty created. Most universities acknowledge that faculty own the copyright in their work. Some colleges however may assert an ownership interest in faculty work for university has contributed substantial resources for that creation.

More than one author created the work jointly may be co-owners of the copyright in the work. Copyright Act allows a joint owner of a copyright to use the work without consent but be under an obligation to account, which may cause unintended consequences. One may have contributed more than the other as to creation of the work. One may consider the “inseparable and interdependent rights and obligations” not fair or equitable. To ensure rights and obligations of co-owners of a copyright work are what each of them intended, they shall agree with specific terms in a written contract. For example, each co-owner may exploit the work through nonexclusive license agreements and must account for the profits to the other. If the copyright in a work is co-owned by a faculty member and a university or by two faculties, limitations on the use of the work and profit allocation may be agreed. Co-owners shall consider entering into a written agreement that modifies the default rules of co-ownership under the Copyright Act.

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