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UW-owned Works

While the default UW position is for creators to own their copyright, there are situations in which works created at the University are “University-owned.” This section discusses UW’s copyright position on works considered “University-owned.” 

University ownership of copyright arises from the following scenarios:

  • Exceptions to the UW Copyright Policy
  • Contractual agreements
  • Works it commissions

The intent of the UW Copyright Policy is to allow faculty, staff, and students to retain all rights in copyright materials they create unless exceptions or contractual arrangements dictate otherwise.

Specifically this section seeks to provide further information on:

  • Copyright exceptions: Exceptions providing for situations where the University would have an ownership interest in a copyrighted work
  • Control: What University ownership means in terms of control of how the work may be used internally and externally
  • Royalty-sharing: How any revenue generated from the work will be shared
  • Risks: Who assumes liability for any risks involved with the deployment of the work

Copyright Exceptions

Exceptions to UW authors retaining all rights in copyrightable materials arise through:

  • Funding arrangements
  • “Work for hire” in copyright law
  • Significant use of UW resources
  • Commissioning work

Exceptions defined

Exceptions arise when there are internal University funding arrangements, such as use of Royalty Research Fund (RRF) or University Investment Fund funding or release time to devote to a University-commissioned work.

Exceptions can arise when use is made of University facilities, equipment, and services to create the work.

Exceptions also arise when work is prepared as a required product or major focus of externally sponsored research in which there are conditions restricting copyright privileges. When a work is a routine progress report prepared as a required element in sponsored research and has not been created with significant use of University facilities, equipment, or support services, the copyright will be with the author.

Other exceptions arise in the development of works through external funding arrangements under which the University has specific ownership obligations or when the University has commissioned a work in writing.

Works made for hire

Copyright law provides that employers may own the works of their employees that are created within the course and scope of employment. Such works are defined in the law as “works made for hire.”

Some works created by employees at the University are works made for hire, others are not.

The University does not assert ownership of all works that may be considered works made for hire, only those where special circumstances dictate University ownership is appropriate.

Interpreting the policy

When exceptions apply, copyright will vest with the University and a work will be considered either “University-owned” or “University-sponsored”. These terms are somewhat confusing, as the University may have an ownership interest in both types of works.

University-owned works are typically works specially commissioned by the University, while University-sponsored works are typically works created with University funding or resources. This distinction has a bearing on royalty-sharing if revenue is generated from licensing the work.

University-owned works

Materials shall be “University-owned” within the meaning of this policy statement if the work is a “work for hire” under copyright law, or if the author was commissioned in writing by the University (or one of its colleges, schools, departments, or other divisions) to develop the materials as a part of the author’s regularly compensated duties, as for example, released time arrangements in the case of faculty members. – Executive Order 36, Section 2 (B)(2)

UW employees

Much work prepared by staff employees in the course of their normal activities would be University-owned.

For a work to be University-owned, there must be a written understanding that a particular work is to be developed for the University as part of an individual’s employment. This is not a general statement that any work prepared by an employee belongs to the University.

University-sponsored works

“Materials shall be ‘University-sponsored materials'” within the meaning of this policy statement if the author developed the materials in the course of performance of his or her normal duties and utilized University staff, resources, or funding to develop the work.” — Executive Order 36, Section 2 (B)(3)

Faculty and student scholarly activity

Student and faculty scholarly works would not normally be University-owned. “As to a faculty member, ‘normal duties’ does not include his or her usual scholarly activity unless it involves extensive uncompensated use of University resources.” — Executive Order 36, Section 2 (B)(3)

“As to a faculty member, ‘commissioned in writing’ specifically does not refer to his or her general obligation to produce scholarly works.” — Executive Order 36, Section 2 (B)(2)

Written agreements

Before a work begins, it is desirable to have a written agreement about the rights of the University and of participants whenever (1) a question exists as to whether the materials will be University-owned or University-sponsored, or (2) copyrightable materials are likely to result from the joint efforts of persons in academic departments and service departments within the University. — Executive Order 36, Section 2 (B)(4)

Questions about ownership and exceptions

Whenever there is a question regarding ownership of copyright and whether or not exceptions apply, consult CoMotion for additional information and an opinion with regard to the University’s ownership interest.

Control of UW-owned Work

Upon determination that a created work is UW-owned, a number of author positions should be considered.

Control of UW-owned works:

  • Author retains control of internal use
  • Author has input on external use

Internal UW use

When the University has an ownership interest in copyrights, the Copyright Policy provides that instances of internal use of the works are subject to the approval of the author while the author remains an employee of the University, unless that approval has been waived expressly or implicitly.

The author also has the right to request revisions or request that materials be withdrawn from use if revisions cannot be made as needed. The only charges allowed for internal use between departments or other units are those associated with incremental costs of internal transfer. Therefore, also, no royalties are shared on payments resulting from internal uses of copyright materials prepared within the scope of the Copyright Policy.

If there are disagreements regarding revisions in materials in which the University has invested significant funds, the Dean of the unit involved should mediate. If the author leaves University employment, the University has an unrestricted internal use right unless the University agrees otherwise.

External use

External uses of copyright materials in which the University has an interest should be preceded by a written agreement specifying conditions of use, and the right of the author to revise or withdraw materials from use.


Revenue from licensing may be shared by:

  • Authors
  • Departments
  • Provost

The UW Copyright Policy and the Administrative Policy Statements on License Revenue provide for royalties to be shared in the licensing or sale of certain works created at the University of Washington.

No royalties shared

Royalties are not paid on works in the “University-owned” category, and are not paid on works transferred between UW units for an incremental charge.

Royalties shared

The UW may share royalties with authors when works are used by external parties under UW CoMotion license and the works are considered to be “University-sponsored.”

Recovery of incremental costs

Incremental costs incurred by the UW may be recovered prior to any royalty distribution. UW developers may develop a “project budget” which directs all or some of the licensing revenue to the project, provided appropriate approval has been granted.


For “University-sponsored” revenue disclosed on or after July 1, 2003, share is as follows: 

Risks Associated with Copyright

Risk with respect to copyright arises through:

  • Intellectual property infringement
  • Product liability
  • Libel
  • Breach of contract

Whenever materials are prepared, copied, displayed, or distributed, there are both potential benefits and risks. Authors and producers often focus on the benefits (use by the public, royalty payments from publishers, shares in lucrative start-up company) and fail to adequately consider the risks that attend opportunities.

There are a number of risks, including copyright, trademark, or patent infringement; misappropriation of trade secrets or other proprietary information; product liability; libel; breach of contract; tortious interference; and ethics violations under Washington State’s Ethics in Public Service Act. While in any particular circumstance the risk may appear remote, the costs that arise, both in time and money, are often substantial.

Developing software that can circumvent a copyright protection measure in digital products such as CDs or video games risks violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), even if the developer is unaware of this potential use of his or her software or if it has other uses besides circumventing the copyright protection. If the other uses of this software are not substantial, it may be deemed to violate the DMCA.

Consequently, designing software that accesses other software or Web creations requires careful consideration and planning.

The State Attorney’s General Office directs all responses to alleged infringement according to UW policy on behalf of the university.