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Required Information When Creating Copyright-Protectable Work

Your work might have immediate impact for both you and others depending on how that work is used either by you or by third parties. What you, or anyone else, can do with a copyrighted work depends on who controls the rights in a work. 

Questions you might have:

  • Can you publish your work?
  • Can you post your work on a website?
  • Do you own your work?
  • Does someone else?
  • How can you tell who owns your work?

This section covers: 

  • How copyright occurs
  • What it means to own a copyright
  • How to control the results so you can use the work as you intend.

Getting Started

To determine what you and others can do with works you create, you need to know:

  • How copyright happens
  • How the work was formed
  • How law, policy, and contracts affect outcomes

Who owns it?

When people create copyright works, often the first question is “who owns it?” This is an important question because ownership of the copyright in a work grants the owner several exclusive rights.

Tradition at most universities is that faculty own the rights in certain types of works, such as scholarly articles, lecture notes, and textbooks. In the past, these works have been predominately print-based, single-author works scholarly in nature.

Determining and apportioning ownership

A question facing many organizations at this time is how to appropriately apportion ownership of complex works that generally involve the contributions of many individuals. Apportioning ownership can be difficult in web-pages, software, and multimedia. These new works are far different from the works that preceded them because they may involve the efforts of designers, programmers, and technicians in addition to faculty or student authors. Further, significant financial resources may be involved.

A blanket determination of ownership based on the type of work is unrealistic. U.S. Copyright law, University copyright policy, and contractual arrangements, such as sponsored research agreements, all can affect ownership of a copyright work. These issues are discussed in greater detail in the Ownership Factors section of this site.

Before you can resolve questions regarding ownership and use of works you create, you need to know how copyright is established and what having these rights means. You’ll also need to know a great deal about the work itself and how it was formed, and if you need to look to the law to provide an answer.

Impact of Rights

Copyright issues are important for not only the ability to publish work but also the ability to transfer rights to others either by license or assignment. 

Ownership of the copyrights in a work provides the owner with the exclusive right to control how the work may be used and as such, copyright ownership is recognized as a very valuable item in today’s web-connected age where copyrighted works are the main commodity of trade.

The owner of a copyright in a work has certain exclusive rights that give the owner the ability to control how the work is used by others. The rights to make copies and distribute copies to others are two of the exclusive rights. If you intend to publish your work, you’ll need to be able to give those rights to the publisher, which means you need to have secured the rights in advance.

Rights are very valuable and will be created whether or not you want them. Once established, they can be transferred to others through agreements such as licenses and assignments.

Content is Key

Ownership of a copyrighted work is determined by authorship. Therefore, in order to use copyrighted works, one must identify all authors of a work and identify all works that are protected by copyright. 

A new challenge in copyright authorship and copyright protection of work is the rise in artificial intelligence (“AI”) in creating work. The Copyright Office has affirmed that only humans, not machines, can be considered an author for the purpose of copyright ownership. Registrants with the Copyright Office are asked to disclose any AI that comprises the overall work. 

A starting point in any project is to fully assess what is copyrightable in the work and who created those works. In many cases, there may be many copyrights in a work.

For example, a website may include authorship contributions by writers, photographers, graphic designers, and software programmers. 

Each of the elements of a project may be eligible for copyright, as well as the compilation of the elements. Depending on how the project contributions are structured, there may be many owners of a single work, many owners of separate works, or a consolidated owner of the collective work.

If you have questions about how to identify the copyright assets in your work, contact UW CoMotion