Re: Science 4 September on Copyright

From: Marvin Margoshes <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Wed, 9 Sep 1998 12:31:39 -0400

An understandable summary of the provisions of U.S. copyright law can be
read at with links to sources of
more detailed information. At that URL, I found:

    3. Who owns a copyright?

    With three important exceptions, copyrights are owned by the
    writers, poets, musicians, choreographers, composers, artists,
    software designers, sculptors, photographers, movie producers,
    craftspersons and other persons who create them. In the copyright
    world, these people are all called "authors." Now for the

    If a work is created by an employee in the course of his or her
    employment, the work is called a "work made for hire" and the
    copyright is owned by the employer."

Apparently, scientists may academia not personally own the copyright
to their scientific papers, just as they don't often own the patent
rights, unless their employer (the university or college) signs it
over to them.

I recall a dispute a few years ago between a university and the author
of a textbook on their faculty, with the university claiming the
copyright to the textbook. The question in that case was whether
writing the textbook was "in the course of his or her employment". My
memory isn't exact on this matter, but I think the university claimed
that the book was written under a grant or contract to the university,
and that that gave them ownership of the copyright. As I see it, a
scientist writing scholarly articles is clearly acting "in the course
of his or her employment", especially since those publications are
usually considered as a basis for promotion.

In my last employment before I retired, in industry, the release of
copyright to a journal had to be signed by an officer of the company I
worked for; my signature would not have been enough because I did not
own the copyright.

I don't see this aspect of copyright ownership being mentioned in the
Science article or the editorial. Any comments from those in academia?

Marvin Margoshes
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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