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New intellectual property policy gets nod from regents

A new copyright ownership policy, approved Nov. 14 by the Board of Regents, seeks to keep up with changing technology while better reflecting the importance of academic freedom over scholarly works, says the leader of the committee charged with updating the policy.

Hilton (U-M Photo Services)

Associate Provost James Hilton says the revised intellectual property policy addresses ownership in a new wayas a function of the process that went into creation of the material rather than a function of the type of work.

"The existing policy is ambiguous, particularly with regard to scholarly works and software," Hilton says. "For example, is a Web site created at a faculty member's own initiative a scholarly work owned by the professor, or a piece of software owned by the University?"

Specifically, the revised policy says that instructional materials and scholarly works created by full- and part-time, adjunct, and emeritus facultyare owned and controlled by those individuals if the works were created of their own initiative with usual University resources. Hilton says ordinary resources include access to the libraries, office space, a computer, routine secretarial and administrative support, and common supplies.

Those works created using an unusual investment of resources are considered property of the University, particularly if they are commissioned by a member of the administration, are the product of sponsored research or are the works of a person who was hired specifically to create them.
Courant (U-M Photo Services)

In addition to clarifying ownership, Provost Paul N. Courant says the new policy should help with faculty and staff recruitment and retention. "The current approach to ownership has been a deterrent to faculty who want their scholarly works protected," Courant says. "The new policy reflects longstanding academic traditions and academic freedom by recognizing faculty control over scholarly works that constitute their ideas and expressions," he says. "These factors are important when a faculty member is deciding where to take a position, or whether to stay with an institution."

Courant says the revised policy is similar to those adopted by a number of peer institutions, including the University of Chicago, Columbia, Stanford and Princeton.

The University will benefit from a more defined policy as well as through new language that encourages faculty to share instructional materials, such as syllabi, assignments and tests with their colleagues, Hilton says. In the past, they were asked only to contribute these materials for administrative purposes, such as accreditation documentation or for course descriptions.

"The new policy also will protect U-M from having copyrightable works, including those owned by faculty, used in competition against the University," Hilton says. "Of particular concern is the sale or distribution of online course materials that could represent a conflict of commitment."

Materials likely created at a faculty member's own initiative with usual resources: lecture notes, transparencies, case examples, textbooks, interactive texts, works of nonfiction or novels, CD-ROMs, articles, books, literary works, poems, musical compositions, visual works of art and other artistic creations.

Examples of materials commissioned by University administrators, created using unusual U-M resources: elaborate Web materials, online course materials or courseware, requiring other University expertise to create; materials used in teaching, research or patient care that a person is hired specifically to create.

The revised policy was created by the Copyright Ownership Committee, which began its work in 2000. In addition to Hilton, whose full title is associate provost for academic, information and instructional technology affairs and professor of psychology, the committee included faculty and other representatives from all three campuses, the University library system, the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, and the Office of the Vice President for Research. The committee made its policy recommendations in April 2001. The plan then was shared with executive officers and deans, and was endorsed by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. A series of campus-wide meetings followed, as well as a posting of the revised policy on a University Web site and in the Record to encourage community feedback. Hilton says minor changes were made in the policy to reflect responses from the community.

The entire policy can be viewed at

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