9.2 Copyright Policy

Establishes Stanford policy on copyright ownership and defines administrative procedures for policy implementation.


Stanford Board of Trustees


Questions about this policy can be answered by:

Ku, Katharine

Executive Director, Office of Technology Licensing

Office of Technology Licensing (OTL)

(650) 723-0651

1. Introduction

This document describes Stanford policies and associated administrative procedures for copyrightable materials and other intellectual property. Its objectives are:

  • to enable the University to foster the free and creative expression and exchange of ideas and comment

  • to preserve traditional University practices and privileges with respect to the publication of scholarly works

  • to establish principles and procedures for sharing income derived from copyrightable material produced at the University

  • to protect the University's assets and imprimatur

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2. General Policy Statement

Copyright is the ownership and control of the intellectual property in original works of authorship which are subject to copyright law. It is the policy of the University that all rights in copyright shall remain with the creator unless the work is a work-for-hire (and copyright vests in the University under copyright law), is supported by a direct allocation of funds through the University for the pursuit of a specific project, is commissioned by the University, makes significant use of University resources or personnel, or is otherwise subject to contractual obligations.

NOTE: Policy governing patentable software is contained in the Research Policy Handbook document entitled Inventions, Patents and Licensing.

A. Books, Articles and Similar Works, Including Unpatentable Software

In accord with academic tradition, except to the extent set forth in this policy, Stanford does not claim ownership to pedagogical, scholarly, or artistic works, regardless of their form of expression. Such works include those of students created in the course of their education, such as dissertations, papers and articles. The University claims no ownership of popular nonfiction, novels, textbooks, poems, musical compositions, unpatentable software, or other works of artistic imagination which are not institutional works and did not make significant use of University resources or the services of University non-faculty employees working within the scope of their employment.

B. Institutional Works

The University shall retain ownership of works created as institutional works. Institutional works include works that are supported by a specific allocation of University funds or that are created at the direction of the University for a specific University purpose. Institutional works also include works whose authorship cannot be attributed to one or a discrete number of authors but rather result from simultaneous or sequential contributions over time by multiple faculty and students. For example, software tools developed and improved over time by multiple faculty and students where authorship is not appropriately attributed to a single or defined group of authors would constitute an institutional work. The mere fact that multiple individuals have contributed to the creation of a work shall not cause the work to constitute an institutional work.

C. Patent and Copyright Agreement: Stanford Form SU-18

All faculty, staff, student employees, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, as well as non-employees who participate or intend to participate in teaching and/or research or scholarship projects at Stanford are bound by this policy. They are also required to sign the Stanford University Patent and Copyright Agreement (referred to as SU-18). See Research Policy Handbook, entitled Inventions, Patents, and Licensing. Except as described in Section 2.A. above, this agreement assigns rights to copyrightable works resulting from University projects to Stanford. This policy applies, and those subject to this policy are deemed to assign their rights to copyrightable works, whether or not a SU-18 is signed and is on file.

Royalty income received by the University for such works will normally be distributed in accordance with University policy (see RPH 9.3 Section 2B. Royalty Distribution). Physical embodiments of copyrightable works may also be subject to the University's policy on Tangible Research Property, also in the Research Policy Handbook document.

D. Works of Non-Employees

Under the Copyright Act, works of non-employees such as consultants, independent contractors, etc. generally are owned by the creator and not by the University, unless there is a written agreement to the contrary. As it is Stanford's policy that the University shall retain ownership of such works (created as institutional rather than personal efforts, as described in Section 2.B, above), Stanford will generally require a written agreement from non-employees that ownership of such works will be assigned to the University.
 Examples of works which the University may retain non-employees to prepare are:

  • reports by consultants or subcontractors

  • computer software

  • architectural or engineering drawings

  • illustrations or designs

  • artistic works

E. Videotaping and Related Classroom Technology

Courses taught and courseware developed for teaching at Stanford belong to Stanford. Any courses which are videotaped or recorded using any other media are Stanford property, and may not be further distributed without permission from the cognizant academic dean (or, in the case of SLAC, by the director). Blanket permission is provided for evanescent video or other copies for the use of students, or for other University purposes. Prior to videotaping, permission should be obtained from anyone who will appear in the final program. In this regard, see the University's policy on Consent to Use of Photographic Images, which is found in the Privacy of Student Records section of the Stanford Bulletin.

F. Contractural Obligations of the University

This Copyright Policy shall not be interpreted to limit the University's ability to meet its obligations for deliverables under any contract, grant, or other arrangement with third parties, including sponsored research agreements, license agreements and the like. Copyrightable works that are subject to sponsored research agreements or other contractual obligations of the University shall be owned by the University, so that the University may satisfy its contractual obligations.

G. Use of University Resources

Stanford University resources are to be used solely for University purposes and not for personal gain or personal commercial advantage, nor for any other non-University purposes. Therefore, if the creator of a copyrightable work makes significant use of the services of University non-faculty employees or University resources to create the work, he or she shall disclose the work to the Office of Technology Licensing and assign title to the University. Examples of non-significant use include ordinary use of desktop computers, University libraries and limited secretarial or administrative resources. Questions about what constitutes significant use should be directed to the appropriate school dean or the Dean of Research.

H. Reconveyance of Copyright to Creator

When copyright is assigned to Stanford because of the provisions to this policy, the creator of the copyrighted material may make a request to the Dean of Research that such ownership be reconveyed back to the creator. Such a request can at the discretion of the Dean, be granted if it does not: (i) violate any legal obligations of or  to the University, (ii) limit appropriate University uses of the materials, (III)create a real or potential conflict of interest for the creator, or (iv)otherwise conflict with University goals or principles.

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3. Explanations of Terms

A. Copyright

1. Copyrightable Works

Under the federal copyright law, copyright subsists in "original works of authorship" which have been fixed in any tangible medium of expression from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. These works include:

  • Literary works such as books, journal articles, poems, manuals, memoranda, tests, computer programs, instructional material, databases, bibliographies;

  • Musical works including any accompanying words;

  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

  • Pantomimes and choreographic works (if fixed, as in notation or videotape);

  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, including photographs, diagrams, sketches and integrated circuit masks;

  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works such as videotapes;

  • Sound recordings.

2. Scope of Copyright Protection

Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, process, concept, discovery or the like, but only to the work in which it may be embodied, illustrated, or explained. For example, a written description of a manufacturing process is copyrightable, but the copyright only prevents unauthorized copying of the description; the process described could be freely copied unless it enjoys some other protection, such as patent.

Subject to various exceptions and limitations provided for in the copyright law, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies by sale or otherwise, and display or perform the work publicly. Ownership of copyright is distinct from the ownership of any material object in which the work may be embodied. For example, if one purchases a videotape, one does not necessarily obtain the right to make a public showing for profit.

The term of copyright in works created on or after January 1, 1978, is the life of the author plus seventy years. Copyright in works-for-hire is for ninety-five years from the date of first publication or one hundred twenty years from creation, whichever period first expires.

B. Works for Hire

"Work for hire" is a legal term defined in the Copyright Act as "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment." This definition includes works prepared by employees in satisfaction of sponsored agreements between the University and outside agencies. Certain commissioned works also are works for hire if the parties so agree in writing.

The employer (i.e., the University) by law is the "author", and hence the owner, of works for hire for copyright purposes. Works for hire subject to his principle include works that are developed, in whole or in part, by University employees. For example, under section 1.G of this policy, significant use of staff or student employee programmers or University film production personnel will typically result in University ownership of the copyright in the resulting work. Where a work is jointly developed by University faculty or staff or student employees and a non-University third party, the copyright in the resulting work typically will be jointly owned by the University and the third party. In such instances, both the University and the other party would have nonexclusive rights to exploit the work, subject to the duty to account to each other. Whether the University claims ownership of a work will be determined in accordance with the provisions of this policy, and not solely based upon whether the work constitutes a work-for-hire under the copyright law. For example, copyright in pedagogical, scholarly or artistic works to which the University disclaims ownership under this policy shall be held by the creators regardless of whether the work constitutes a work-for-hire under copyright law. University ownership in a work for hire may be relinquished only by an official of the University authorized to do so by the Board of Trustees.

4. Attachment A. Policy Clarifications Concerning Online Instruction

Date: February 19, 2013

To:   Department Chairs and Program Directors

From: John Etchemendy, Provost

Subject:  Policy clarifications concerning online instruction

Statement on Outside Teaching and Online Course Materials

The Presidential Advisory Committee on Technology in Higher Education was convened in February 2012 to provide guidance on the use of educational technology both on and off campus. The committee issued a report in June 2012 in which the committee expressed its belief that Stanford’s primary educational mission is to educate students admitted to the University’s programs. At the same time, the committee recognized faculty interest in extending the impact of their scholarship through external distribution of courses. In light of the committee’s findings and recommendations, the following policy clarifications will be made to the Research Policy Handbook and the Faculty Handbook.

Outside Teaching Activities

The committee recognized that faculty owe their primary teaching duty to the University and that any teaching outside the University must be consistent with the University’s policies on conflict of commitment and interest. Under longstanding University policy, a faculty member is normally not permitted to accept or hold a regular teaching, research or administrative position at another institution. This is true regardless of whether the faculty member is on regular duty at Stanford, on sabbatical, or on leave without salary. The policy is consistent with the expectations of our students that, through their admission to the University and payment of tuition, they will receive a unique educational experience from exceptional Stanford faculty that is not available elsewhere.

The committee noted that this policy should apply regardless of whether the teaching is provided in person or through an electronic format. Merely limiting the creation of course materials for another institution to consulting hours, a vacation or an off duty quarter does not address the potential conflict with the faculty member’s obligations to the University and its students. Such outside teaching activities can be at odds with University policies on conflict of commitment and interest by diverting attention from the appointee’s work at Stanford, competing with existing programs offered by the University, or undermining the development of new programs at the University. In addition, such activities may inappropriately rely upon University resources (including its personnel and students) that are funded by tuition payments and by contributions from donors and extramural funders for the non-profit teaching and research activities of the University.

Accordingly, Faculty, Academic Staff and Other Teaching Staff with a primary employment affiliation with the University, as reflected in an appointment of more than 50% for a year or longer, are not permitted to teach for another institution or otherwise teach extramural courses without the approval of the Provost, except through a Stanford-sponsored program or agreement with that institution.

Individuals who are employed by the University in an appointment of 50% or less time do not owe their primary teaching duty to Stanford and therefore may teach for another institution, as long as such teaching does not interfere with their duties at Stanford. However, they may not use their Stanford title or affiliation in any way to promote the teaching activity at the other institution or to imply that there is Stanford sponsorship of the activity. The committee noted that the University’s name is a significant University resource and implicates the interests of not only the University, but also the reputation and academic standing of the professoriate. Accordingly individuals who are permitted to teach elsewhere should prevent the other institutions with whom they work from using the Stanford name or its insignias, identifying them as Stanford instructors (as opposed to instructors at the institution in which the courses are offered), or making statements that imply that Stanford sponsors, endorses or otherwise vouches for their courses. In extended biographical descriptions, such individuals may refer to the fact that they have taught at the University.

This policy does not prohibit the academic tradition of teaching in a visiting capacity at other non-profit educational institutions during sabbatical leaves,  giving occasional guest lectures or presenting a tutorial or short course at a scientific conference. However, approval from the cognizant dean is required before any electronic materials created in connection with such teaching may be used as a course or a significant portion of a course by another institution after the conclusion of the faculty member’s visit.

Faculty members and other academic appointees are responsible for complying with this policy and should consult with their deans or the Vice Provost for Online Learning before pursuing activities that might be problematic under this policy.

Distribution of Course Materials

The committee acknowledged that under existing University policy, courses taught and courseware developed by faculty while employed by the University belong to Stanford. The committee noted that this policy should continue to apply regardless of the form of expression, including courses captured on video or in other digital forms.  However, faculty are permitted to make written course materials they personally create available to peers at other academic institutions for noncommercial academic or personal use outside the University. Additionally, if a faculty member leaves the University, he or she may continue to use, at another non-profit academic institution, course material he or she created at Stanford.

Faculty creating textbooks that include additional course materials should not allow publishers to assert broad control over derivative works and limit the ability of the faculty member or the University to use and distribute the course materials in the future. Faculty may include course materials owned by the University in textbooks under a free license from the University; however, the faculty member’s contract with a publisher should contain terms acknowledging the University’s ownership interest in the course materials and require prior consent by the University for the creation and distribution of derivative works.

Compensation for Course Development

If a department or school specifically commissions the development of course content or courseware, the payment of any supplementary compensation will be consistent with the existing policies set forth in Section 5.1 of the Faculty Handbook and relevant school policies.

Consistent with the existing University policies regarding the commercialization of inventions, any commercialization of course content and courseware created and taught at Stanford will be undertaken by the University. The University will not, however, undertake any commercialization without the agreement of the faculty-creator and will ensure that any revenue arising from commercialization will be shared with the creators, their departments and schools, as is done with patent income.

Click here to view Memo from John Etchemendy Provost, dated February 19, 2013.

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