A Fresh Look at Copyright on Campus

43 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2016

See all articles by Jacob H. Rooksby

Jacob H. Rooksby

Gonzaga University - School of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2016


The role of copyright on the modern college and university campus is overdue for fresh examination. Copyright ownership issues and related contests over rights risk impeding higher education’s ability to serve as a cultural and knowledge commons, a specially constructed space where human and artifactual resources interact in ways that benefit society at large. At present, copyright concerns raised by trends involving student entrepreneurship, the digital humanities, and the digitization of special collections material housed in campus libraries threaten higher education’s potential to benefit society to the fullest.

This Article reviews developments in these three areas of higher education through the lens of copyright, examining, in particular, the copyright ownership – as opposed to use – questions they present. In these emerging contexts, institutional claims to copyright often work to the detriment of students, faculty, and the public. Also harmful are campus copyright policies that are ambiguously worded or inappropriately purport to vest ownership interests in colleges and universities.

Resolving these copyright concerns developing in higher education will require amending copyright law and corresponding campus copyright policies. This Article proposes three solutions, each of which would better align applicable laws with our moral expectations for higher education: (1) creating a legal presumption that students own all of the works that they create while students, (2) creating a legal presumption that faculty own nearly all of the works that they create as faculty, and (3) creating two legal prohibitions: one that prevents campus libraries from accepting gifts in which the donor claims copyright or seeks to impose analogous access and use restrictions, and another that prevents institutions from claiming copyright in the donated materials or any derivative works created with them.

Together, these proposals help further a vision of higher education as a cultural and knowledge commons – a sector that exists in the public sphere to advance social welfare and responsible economic development to the greatest extent possible.

Keywords: Copyright, Higher Education, Commons, Entrepreneurship, Digital Humanities, Special Collections, Digitization

Suggested Citation

Rooksby, Jacob H., A Fresh Look at Copyright on Campus (October 1, 2016). Missouri Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 3, 2016, Duquesne University School of Law Research Paper No. 2016-03, Gonzaga University School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-3, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2862675

Jacob H. Rooksby (Contact Author)

Gonzaga University - School of Law ( email )

721 N. Cincinnati Street
Spokane, WA 99220-3528
United States

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