Work-for-Hire Case Summaries

A few courts have ruled on the question of whether works created by faculty members are works made for hire, and whether the policy at the college or university effectively resolves questions about copyright ownership. These cases might address some legal questions, but they leave unclear whether general university copyright policies are enforceable and whether a "teacher’s exception" to the doctrine actually exists. While general university policies giving ownership of works to the faculty author can be helpful, these policies should be supplemented with written and signed agreements when the need for resolution of the ownership issues is critical. In light of the contradictory results in some of these cases, a proper signed agreement about copyright ownership of specific works may be of growing importance.

University of Colorado Foundation, Inc. v. American Cyanamid, 880 F. Supp. 1387 (D.Colo. 1995)

In a dispute over patent rights to a reformulated pharmaceutical developed in part by faculty researchers at the University of Colorado, the university argued that the defendant copied portions of a published research article written by the researchers. While the defendant disputed the university’s ownership, the court resolved that the article was a work made for hire created by employees within the scope of their employment. Consequently, the court concluded that the university was the copyright owner, held all the rights, and could proceed with the infringement claim.

Hays v. Sony Corporation of America, 847 F.2d 412 (7th Cir. 1988)

Two high school teachers wrote a manual for a DEC word processor and circulated the manual to students and other faculty members. A few years later, the school district gave the manuals to Sony and asked the company to modify it so that it could be used with Sony word processors that the district had bought. The court suggested the possibility of a "teacher’s exception" to the works-made-for-hire doctrine. That discussion, however, was only dictum and not a ruling by the court.

Weinstein v. University of Illinois, 811 F.2d 1091 (7th Cir. 1987)

A professor who had co-written an article and had requested for his name to be credited first argued that the university had deprived him of his property without due process. While the university claimed it was a work made for hire, the professor argued that the university’s general policy had given him ownership of the work. The court held that faculty members could retain the copyright to a research article depending on the interpretation of the university’s copyright policy. However, the court ruled on the question of due process and did not substantively resolve the issues of copyright ownership and policy interpretation.

Vanderhurst v. Colorado Mountain College District, 16 F. Supp. 2d 1297 (D.Colo. 1998)

A professor of veterinary technology prepared an outline on his own time with his own materials for a course that he taught at the college. After termination of his employment, the professor claimed ownership of the copyright to his course work; however, the court held that the creation of the outline should be fairly regarded as one method of carrying out the objectives of his employment, making it a work made for hire. Bolstering the court’s reasoning that the rights belonged to the college was a university policy specifying that the duties of faculty members included professional service activities, such as development of courses, programs, and curricula.

Manning v. Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 505 (Parkland College), 109 F. Supp. 2d 976 (C.D. Ill. 2000)

After a community college had terminated the full-time employment of a staff photographer, both the college and the photographer claimed ownership of the copyrights to photographs taken for the college during the term of his employment. The photographer alleged that he owned the copyrights because a policy included in the college’s policy manual sweepingly granted copyrights to employees who create new works. The court held that a general policy was insufficient to meet the statutory requirements for changing the copyright ownership.

Foraste v. Brown University, 248 F. Supp. 2d 71 (D.R.I. 2003)

Like Manning, a professional staff photographer claimed ownership of the copyrights to his work following termination of his employment. The court held that the photographer was an employee creating the works within the scope of his duties and rejected the argument that the broad university policy designating that copyrights belonged to the author or originator of the work was sufficient to meet the statutory requirement of a writing signed by the parties. Therefore, the employer held the copyrights.

Bosch v. Ball-Kell, 206 WL 2548053 (C.D. Ill. 2006)

A professor claimed ownership in course materials she created and that were used by the college after her termination of employment. This decision was not the final ruling in the case. The court was only leaving open the possibility that a general university policy placing the copyright with the creator of the work could in fact be enforceable. Because this ruling was on a motion for summary judgment, the court did not rule on the effectiveness of the policy.

 

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