Copyright for Librarians and Teachers, in a Nutshell: Who Controls Uses of Your On-the-Job Writing?

By Russell, Carrie | American Libraries, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Copyright for Librarians and Teachers, in a Nutshell: Who Controls Uses of Your On-the-Job Writing?


Russell, Carrie, American Libraries


You may have wondered, like Lindsey (see cartoon), whether you hold the copyright to work you've put many hours into creating on the job. Who holds the copyright to works created by teachers or librarians? Short answer: In general, when employees create works as a condition of employment, the copyright holder is the employer.

As a school librarian or teacher, you create works all the time--lesson plans, finding tools, and so on--fairly independently, without specific conditions established by the school. If you are developing a syllabus, the school generally does not specify what to write or how long or detailed the syllabus should be, as would be the. case in a "work for hire" situation (see sidebar). Nonetheless, you are being paid by the school to do a particular job, so the rights for materials you create are held by the school.

The employer holds the copyright when you create the works on the job, using school resources and technology, and receive a regular paycheck with Social Security and insurance deductions. These conditions point to an extended and anticipated ongoing relationship with your employer. In our opening illustration, Lindsey believes that she holds the copyright to her recently completed lesson plan. But if she used school resources and created the lesson on "company time," the school likely holds the copyright.

Use of work outside of school

If the school holds the copyright to your works, are you allowed to use those works outside of the school--at a conference or in a trainingsession? Can you lend your less on plans to other teachers in another district without asking for permission? The answer depends on how restrictive your school policy is about works created on the job. For the most part, members of an educational community tend to have a more open view about sharing works with colleagues because of their collective commitment to advance learning. In addition, unlike other creators, we do not make our living selling the works we create on the job.

Many schools do not have a policy addressing the "ownership" of librarian- and teacher-created content, and you may want to pursue establishing such a policy. Alternatively, let sleeping dogs lie and forgo a strict policy, which allows the flexibility of determining the best course of action on a case-by-case basis--whether to use a created work at a professional conference, for instance. In many cases, use of works outside of the classroom will be "fair use," which does not require permission from the copyright holder.

Using the copyrighted work of others

Copyrights can be transferred (see sidebar) and those transfers can be "exclusive," "nonexclusive," or "time-based." In an example of a time-based transfer, say a librarian wants to establish movie night at the library. Showing movies to the public is a right held by the rights holder (in this case, the motion picture company). The librarian would--if the rights holder agreed--license the right to publicly perform a work on the date of the movie screening only. …

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