Course Materials Ownership FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Ownership of Course Materials Including Online Instruction Materials FAQ

Ownership and use of intellectual property created by Brown employees, including faculty, are governed by the University's Patent and Invention Policy and Copyright Policy. Faculty also must be mindful to avoid use of such intellectual property in a manner that conflicts with their obligations under the University's Conflict of Interest Policy for Officers of Instruction and Research, and the University's general Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy. The list of frequently asked questions below are aimed at addressing some commonly occurring concerns of faculty members as well as other paid teaching instructors. This document was prepared in consultation with a wide range of Brown faculty and with particular input from the Research Advisory Board (RAB) and the General Counsel's office.

  1. Who owns the copyright in materials created by faculty? The copyright in materials created by an employee within the scope of employment are owned by the employer under the "work made for hire" doctrine unless otherwise specified. In adherence with long-standing tradition relating to course materials (and scholarly publications), the University considers most course materials created by its faculty exempt from the "work made for hire" doctrine subject to a reservation of specific rights to the University as well as certain restrictions on use.


  2. Which course materials are exempted by the University from the "work made for hire" doctrine and considered owned by the faculty-creator? 
    Ownership of copyright for all of the below belong to the faculty-creator unless the material in question was a) developed with significant input from others at Brown b) derived significantly from use of University resources, or c) the faculty-creator received special or additional compensation to create the course beyond his or her regular salaried appointment. Examples of course materials owned by the faculty creator include:
    1. Course syllabi
    2. Lecture notes
    3. PowerPoint or other digital presentations
    4. Class assignments, exams, and supplemental materials
    5. Digital course materials, including a limited, insubstantial part of a digitally produced or digitally reproduced lecture (but not the entirety of any single lecture or multiple lectures)
  3. What rights does the University retain in course materials exempted from the "work made for hire" doctrine and what restrictions does the University place on the use of such course materials?
    1. The University retains the right to use such course materials for its own educational and research purposes, including archiving the materials (Section 2.6 of the Copyright Policy)
    2. Faculty may NOT distribute or sell course materials or content for commercial purposes.
    3. Faculty may NOT use course materials or content to teach the same course outside of Brown while employed at Brown.
  4. How may faculty use exempted course materials? Examples of common uses include but are not limited to:
    1. Distribution of content to peers at other academic institutions for noncommercial academic or personal use outside of Brown University
    2. Distribution for scholarly publication
    3. Inclusion in an occasional lecture at another institution while still employed at Brown
    4. Teach or otherwise re-use at other non-profit educational institutions after leaving Brown
    5. Faculty may NOT distribute or sell content for commercial purposes (FRR 2.2.iii and Conflict of Interest Policy, Section 7 "Conflict with Business Interests of University").
  5. Which course materials are not exempted by the University from the "work made for hire" doctrine and considered owned by the University? 
    Materials developed with significant input from others at Brown working within the scope of their employment, materials that required significant use of university resources, or materials from courses for which the faculty member was specially compensated by the University beyond his/her regular salaried appointment.
  6. What are current examples of materials "for which the faculty member was specially compensated by the University beyond the faculty member's regular salaried appointment? 
    Current examples of materials for which the faculty member was specially compensated by the University beyond his/her regular salaried appointment include without limitation:
    1. Digital productions or reproductions of course lectures
    2. Other course content (such as PPTs, digital presentations, class assignments, course creation)
  7. What are current examples of "significant input from others at Brown," or "substantial use of University resources"?
    1. Digital productions, reproductions, or other recordings of courses, or parts thereof, that are made at the University's expense (including use of the University's automated lecture capture system and use of University-employed videographers)
    2. Multiple hours of assistance from the Sheridan Center or other Brown staff in developing online content
    3. Extensive use of students in developing the online course or course materials (e.g., videotaping, background research). Interactions between faculty and students such as normally occur in the preparation of scholarly materials do not constitute "extensive use." Graduate teaching assistants specifically assigned to an effort to produce online content for on or off campus teaching does represent substantial use of university resources.
    4. Note that receipt of the academic year salary, availability of faculty office space, use of library resources, typical secretarial and administrative staff resources, or use of computer equipment, among other things, are not regarded as constituting "substantial use of University resources".

    If there are questions about whether the resources being contributed by the University constitute "significant input" or "substantial use," the University and faculty member must explicitly agree in writing as to ownership of the course materials before resources are accessed, used or otherwise supplied. Any question about what constitutes substantial input or substantial resources should be referred to the Provost's office.

  8. Who owns course materials collectively generated by a class (e.g., collaborative wiki space)? 
    Course materials collectively generated by a class are considered "institutional work," by the University and the copyright belongs to the University.
  9. What might the University do with course materials created by faculty, either individually or collectively by a class, and owned by the University? 
    Possible uses include but are not limited to:
    1. Re-use, reproduce, adapt, modify, update, exhibit, display, archive, use in compilations or create derivative works (faculty-creator will be notified if still employed at Brown)
    2. License the content to other non-profit institutions without a fee (faculty-creator will be notified if still employed at Brown)
    3. License videos for commercial use or to other non-profits in return for a fee (faculty-creator will be notified if still employed at Brown and royalties allocated on a model similar to patents)
  10. Will the faculty-creator be allowed to use the course materials created by faculty and owned by the University at another non-commercial institution, either during or after their employment at Brown? Faculty should seek permission on a case-by-case basis. However, generally
    1. During the time of employment at Brown, faculty may make limited use of such material without obtaining the express written consent of the University for scholarly presentations that will not be widely distributed
    2. Once the faculty-creator is no longer employed by Brown, the faculty-creator may make use of lectures that he/she created while employed at Brown for his/her own scholarly, non-profit, non-competing purposes
  11. What are examples of course materials created by faculty that are likely to contradict Brown's conflict of interest or conflict of commitment policies?
    1. Accepting employment outside of Brown, for the purpose of creating online teaching materials without written approval of the appropriate Dean (Conflict of Interest Policy Section 7 "Conflict with Business Interests of University").
    2. Creating online teaching materials (for example, course lectures) for a course intended to be taught outside of Brown that the faculty member might reasonably be expected to teach while at Brown, without written approval of the appropriate Dean.
  12. Can faculty use the Brown brand on courses and/or course materials they own and, as permitted, teach elsewhere?
    No. Faculty may not use Brown trademarks or other identifying designations without the prior written consent of the University on courses or course materials they teach elsewhere
  13. If courses or course modules are developed using government or other external grant funding which specifies that the results must be openly accessible, does the University have the right to control access to this content?
    1. No. Access to the course and/or course content is controlled by the terms of the grant and neither the University nor the faculty member can control access except in accordance with the terms and conditions of the grant.
  14. When should faculty and the University sign an agreement or contract indicating ownership rights of a course, course module, or course materials intended to be distributed online? 
    Whenever there is any ambiguity regarding the ownership of intellectual property in which University resources are being used, a written agreement designating who will own the intellectual property must be entered into before the creation and/or development of the material in question.
  15. If course materials are owned by the faculty-creator, will Brown be responsible for helping protect the copyright?
    1. No. The faculty-creator is responsible for protecting his/her proprietary interest in the course materials. Faculty are encouraged to add a copyright notice or symbol to materials he/she owns and to use a Creative Commons license to grant permissions for their use ( but should consult with his/her own legal counsel. 
      The answers to these FAQs have been prepared on the basis of the existing policies and the University reserves the right to change either or all of the referenced policies, and, consequently, the FAQs and/or the relevant responses.