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Copyright Reminder

Copyright and intellectual property issues are a part of the fabric of research and scholarly communications, and thus all Stanford faculty, students and staff need a working understanding of copyright law as it impacts their daily lives.  The Copyright Reminder, which highlights common campus copyright concerns and outlines fundamental elements of US copyright law, is distributed annually to ensure that the Stanford community remains aware of those issues. 

Highlights for 2015

This section calls out issues that have been of particular concern or areas where recommended practices have been revised since the last Copyright Reminder.

Use of Web Tools in Teaching

2014 brought a surge in interest in the use of third-party applications and new technology tools in teaching.  Collaboration tools can enhance the learning environment, but it is important to ensure that any tool used in teaching is compliant with FERPA, the Federal law governing the management of student records.  These tools can also raise concerns related to web security, content ownership, and confidentiality.

Because of these risks, social media tools should be vetted and hosted by Stanford whenever possible, to reduce concerns regarding content ownership, confidentiality of student information, and web security.  Third-party tools and websites may be appropriate if no comparable Stanford tool exists, but be aware that many service providers require users to sign up for an account and agree to terms of use in exchange for use of the services. Faculty should review terms of use and pay attention to:

  • Content ownership concerns (e.g., are students required to give away or license their copyright interests in student-generated content?)
  • Privacy concerns (e.g., can students control the distribution of their own content?)
  • Content use for non-Stanford purposes (e.g., will the service provider keep a copy of the student-generated content for data-mining or other purposes?)

Faculty should notify students in the syllabus when third-party tools will be used in a course, and should also alert students to the terms of use.  Faculty should work with students who are not comfortable agreeing to particular third-party terms--including, where possible, enabling a student to participate in the course without relying on the third-party tools.  For more information, see this FAQ on Stanford's Secure Computing page.

Managing Intellectual Property Across Teams

Questions about management of copyright in research and pedagogical output are common, particularly in situations where multiple Stanford workgroups participate in the project.  Where you are collaborating with another unit, it is important to determine in advance how rights to the output of the research project will be managed. 

Stanford’s copyright policy and Stanford’s Tangible Research Property policy, which includes software, are important resources as you determine the direction your project will take.  

Stanford’s copyright policy defines who owns copyright at Stanford for Stanford related projects.  The Dean of Research is authorized to make decisions regarding copyright ownership, including whether the work is owned by an individual author (or authors), by the university or under some combination of ownership.  The Dean of Research will also arbitrate any disputes that arise within project teams.

However, when cross-departmental teams undertake projects, it is best to have a discussion up front to clarify how copyright, patents, and other IP will be managed and which teams will retain and manage rights for all portions of the project.  Be sure to consider not only publications arising from the project, but also data sets, software, websites, user interfaces, specifications, codebooks and other outputs.  It is acceptable for faculty to hire graduate students, students or post-docs to provide research assistance without an expectation that these individuals will have an ownership interest in the final written output.  It is, however, best for faculty to make that clear to researchers at the time of hire to avoid confusion.  Similarly, in circumstances in which university funding is significant, the university likely has ownership interests and if this result is not the expected outcome, it is best to confer with the Dean of Research at the outset of a project. 

Data Sets

Creating, receiving and sharing data, including access to large data sets, has become a key component of research at Stanford.  Also, under university policy, when researchers generate data in the course of their Stanford work, the data sets remain under their control but are owned by the University.  Researchers should therefore ensure that data sets they share are appropriately licensed, and that they carefully monitor license terms of data sets they bring in to Stanford.  Researchers can contact the appropriate office at Stanford to help navigate these agreements. The relevant offices are: