The University Record, February 4, 2002

Input sought for new copyright policy

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

Who owns materials created for use in a U-M class? Is it all right to take syllabi, lecture notes and other materials developed for a distance learning course and use them to teach at another university during a special summer session? Who is the rightful owner of software designed on University equipment with money from the general fund?

Questions of copyright can be confusing, says James Hilton, associate provost for academic information and instructional technology affairs, and professor of psychology. “Copyright law is rapidly changing and often is counterintuitive,” notes Hilton. To help U-M faculty and staff understand their rights and responsibilities, a special committee has drafted a “Copyright Policy on Works Created at or in Affiliation with the University of Michigan.”

The Copyright Policy Committee, appointed by former president Lee Bollinger and comprised of representatives of the faculty, University Library, Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Vice President for Research, is seeking input on the document drafted this fall. While the deans and Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs already have reviewed the document, Hilton says the committee wants to make certain all interested parties across the three U-M campuses have an opportunity to express their opinions about the proposal. To that end, sessions for public comment are being scheduled in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint.

Hilton says the new policy is needed because, “while we are surrounded by a world at large in which information is rapidly becoming a commodity, within the academic community we need to find ways to preserve the open exchange of ideas. After all, the ultimate goal of copyright is to promote learning—to get ideas into the public so that they can further knowledge and culture.”

The proposed copyright policy focuses on the process by which the work was developed. “In essence, the new policy recommends that the University should own copyrightable works that are specifically commissioned, created in administrative roles, the product of sponsored research, or involved the unusual investment of resources,” says Hilton. “It recommends that faculty should own copyrightable works that are created at their own initiative with no unusual University resources.” It also has language prohibiting faculty from using copyrightable works, including those that are faculty-owned, to compete against the University while they still are employed by U-M.

The draft copyright policy can be viewed at In addition to the hearings, Hilton also welcomes input through other means, including e-mail. His address is

Copyright law basics

  • Copyright protects virtually all forms of tangible expression, including, but not limited to, poetry, prose, computer programs, artwork, movies, videos, written music, recorded music, plays, photographs, Web pages, letters, faxes, e-mails and PowerPoint presentations

  • Copyright does not protect ideas, mere facts, titles or short phrases

  • Copyright protection currently extends for the life of the author plus 70 years

  • Copyright protection begins at the moment of creation and does not require registration or even inclusion of the familiar symbol

    Opportunities to give input:

  • Ann Arbor: 4–6 p.m. Feb. 15 Chrysler Auditorium (School of Engineering)

  • Flint: 10 a.m.–noon March 4 Flint University Center, Michigan Room A

  • Ann Arbor: 4–6 p.m. March 11 Angell Hall Auditorium D

  • Dearborn: TBD (watch future Record briefings for the date and location)