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Copyright Crash Course

A quick guide to everything you have ever wanted to know about Copyright


The author is usually the owner.

Except when work-for-hire rules apply. The author's employer owns work(s) if:

  • Created by an employee within the scope of employment, or
  • That fall within one or more of the nine statutory categories, where an agreement commissioning the work is in writing and signed by the creator or creators before work begins.
    • The nine statutory categories include: contribution to a collective work; part of a movie or other audiovisual work; a translation; a supplementary work; a compilation; an instructional text; a test; answer material for a test; or an atlas
  • If a work doesn't fit within the statutory definition of a work-for-hire, the employer may still own it if the author assigns the copyright to the employer or contractor.

An author-owner is free to assign copyright to anyone, so a written contract can change these basic rules. As an example, many publishers require assignment of copyright as a condition of publication

Policies, such as the U.T. System Intellectual Property Policy can also change the ownership rules.

  • They can permit faculty ownership of scholarly, artistic, literary, musical, and educational materials within the author's field of expertise.

Collaborations in online environments usually involve:

  • Inter-institutional collaborators or other non-affiliated collaborators
  • Student contributions
  • Contract labor contributions
  • Non-faculty university employee contributions

In order to be joint authors of a work, each person must:

  • Contribute copyrightable expression, and
  • Intend at the time the work is created that all contributors will be joint owners of the whole finished work.