Did you know the University of South Alabama has a copyright policy? (See http://www.southalabama.edu/departments/research/resources/CopyrightPolicy.pdf.) USA is not alone: universities often develop copyright policies to create a common understanding about what copyright is, since copyright law is far from intuitive. Such policies are useful to ensure consistency and fairness. Also, several sections of the copyright law require a relevant institutional policy in order to qualify for a statutory safe harbor, such as those found in the TEACH Act or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The University of South Alabama Copyright Policy lists the rules for determining ownership of copyright, based on both the category of copyrightable work and the category of author. There are three categories of copyrightable works, a “directed work” created at the direction of the university, traditional or “non-directed works,” and sponsored or externally contracted works, such as a grant. Categories of author include faculty, executive, administrative, managerial, staff, or student.
While I will refer the reader to the actual policy to parse the intricacies of determining copyright ownership, it appears that USA retains the copyright for works created under the direction of, or with substantial support from, the university. As an illustration, works created by an employee within the scope of his or her employment is considered to be a “work for hire,” aka “work made for hire,” (see 17 U.S.C. § 101for a definition http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#101) and it is well settled in US copyright law that the employer (or commissioner of the work) retains copyright ownership of the copyright, as is the case at USA, absent an agreement between the university and the employee creator.
The USA Copyright Policy also contains a discussion of shop rights and information on copyright revenue sharing. In addition, as typical of many research institutions, the University of South Alabama also has a separate policy for patents, (http://www.southalabama.edu/departments/research/resources/PatentandInventionPolicy.pdf) in contrast to other universities that have one combined policy covering both copyrights and patents or other forms of intellectual property.
(Originally published in Biofeedback 107 - October 2015.)