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FAQ - Ownership Issues for Instruction

Frequently asked questions about ownership issues for online courses and other instructional materials.

Prepared by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire University Senate Technology Committee, Spring 2003.

1. Who has an ownership interest in what?

  1. The author usually retains ownership interest in his or her work.
  2. However, if the author is a member of the Academic Staff (who works for hire), or if the author is a Faculty member who has been given substantial institutional support (such as additional salary or release time) for the creation of material, the university may have an interest in the work. If an author wishes to retain an interest in part or all of his or her work, the author needs to make that part of his or her contract (see sample addendum to contract attached)
  3. An author can assign copyright to anyone by means of a written contract.
  4. Interest in instructional materials including online courses is not absolute.
    1. An author can retain interest in the content of his or her notes/lectures/exercises in an online course, at the same time the university has an interest in the course itself.
    2. This has multiple implications. To consider just one example, this might mean that an author could publish the same content in textbook format, but the university could offer the course with another instructor.
  5. Because interest is not absolute, employees are advised to negotiate contracts with the university administration to establish who has what interest BEFORE they begin work on a course.
  6. The University of Wisconsin System has an intellectual property policy that can be found at and this should be used to guide the construction of a contract.
  7. Issues to consider while negotiating a contract include but are not limited to whether other Faculty members or members of the Academic Staff will be able to teach a course that an author designed, whether an author can take that course with him or her upon leaving the university, and whether he or she can publish materials used in the course in another format.
  8. When copyrightable instructional materials are produced with extramural support, the agreement with the extramural sponsor has to be taken into consideration in determining who has an interest in what.

2. Who is an author?

  1. An author is someone who contributes copyrightable expression to the work.
  2. Sometimes works have joint authors.

3. Can an author sell or license instructional materials to a third party?

  1. Sharing work within UW System is encouraged by system policy. Release of instructional materials for sale, rental, or license (permission to use the work rather than assignment of the rights in it) outside of UW System must be negotiated between the institution and the author.

4. Can an author hire an outside consultant to assist with a project? If so, what is the consultant’s interest?

  1. If an author hires an outside consultant to help in the production of instructional materials, the author can prepare a work for hire agreement or a contract to pay the consultant that includes a waiver of ownership rights.

5. Can a member of the Academic Staff retain interest in his or her copyrightable expression by negotiating a contract with the university administration before beginning work?

  1. The employer retains interest in work created by Academic Staff members during normal working hours as part of their contractual obligation (work for hire).
  2. The university administration believes that it is consistent with the mission of a university to encourage creative and scholarly work by all of its employees.
  3. The university administration is willing to negotiate agreements with Academic Staff members that allow them to retain interest in their work BEFORE work is begun on a course.

6. What if I want to include other people’s work in my course? What is Copyrightable Expression?

  1. Copyrightable expression is original authorship, fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Examples of copyrightable expression include original works of poetry, prose, bibliographies, study guides, dramatic compositions, computer programs, artwork, musical notation, recorded music and/or song, animations, video footage, transparencies, Java applets, a web page, architectural drawings, and photographs.
  2. Copyrightable expression does not include items such as facts, exact duplications of public domain works, ideas, works created by employees of the Federal Government, titles and short phrases, logos and slogans, forms that only collect information (rather than provide information)

7. What constitutes fair use?

  1. The University of Texas has developed a “Four Factor Fair Use Test”. ( instructors with questions are advised to consult this site. Using copyrighted material (e.g. the content of the course) for profit is a lawsuit waiting to happen. UW System’s legal office also provides information about copyright. See:

8. Who is responsible for obtaining permissions to use previously copyrighted material in new instructional materials?

  1. The person who is responsible for the content and structure of the project is responsible for obtaining permissions.
  2. Instructors can include in their courses material that meets the guidelines of the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) of 2002 without obtaining permissions. See

9. Can an instructor use portions of a course created by another instructor?

  1. An instructor can use a limited portion of another instructor’s course under fair use.

10. What rights and responsibilities do students have?

  1. The university is committed to the idea that students should retain rights to their intellectual property whether it is created in class or as collaborative research.
  2. Instructors must advise students, in advance, if they plan to use their work for research or pedagogical purposes and must obtain a signed release.
  3. Students may, in the normal course of study, inadvertently contribute copyrightable expression to a work owned by a Faculty or Academic Staff member or by the university. In this case, it is incumbent upon the owner of the course to make students aware of their rights to negotiate contracts allowing them to retain ownership of their work.
  4. Students may retain ownership of their work regardless of whether or not they receive financial aid from the university.
  5. In the absence of a signed release, student work must be deleted from online courses within one semester of the end of the course.
  6. Electronic portfolios must be deleted within 60 days of a student’s graduation unless the university has entered into an agreement with a student to retain his or her portfolio for professional development purposes. (For example, the School of Education may agree to maintain graduates’ portfolios as they continue their professional development activities while teaching).
  7. If students are also employed outside the university and plan to retain ownership of their work it is their responsibility to resolve any conflicts of interest that arise from their employment.

11. Where do I go for further information?

  1. Faculty, Academic Staff, and students with further questions regarding patentable intellectual property issues are advised to contact Karen Havholm, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored Programs.
  2. Questions about copyright should be addressed to Jill Markgraf, Interim Director of the Library.
  3. Any addendum to an instructor’s contract must begin with the Chair of his or her department. An addendum to a non-teaching academic staff member’s contract begins with the head of his or her unit.
  4. Instructors may bring concerns about university policies with regard to technology to the Senate Technology Committee.

Sample addendum to contract for online course

Addendum to Contract to Teach Online Version of Course Name, Department, and Number

All copyrightable expression created by Instructor and put online for students in Course Name, Department, and Number shall remain the intellectual property of Instructor, who will retain all rights to reproduce and publish this material in printed or electronic form. The publication of this material, however, shall not in any way infringe upon the rights of students enrolled in UW-Eau Claire’s online version of Course Name, Department, and Number to access and reproduce this material for personal use.

This contract addendum has been completed in compliance with UW-System financial and administrative policy GAPP 27.