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Universities and article copyright

Law, Derek and Weedon, Ralph and Sheen, M.R. (2000) Universities and article copyright. Learned Publishing, 13 (3). pp. 141-150. ISSN 0953-1513

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In all the debates about copyright and intellectual property in recent years, the battle lines have tended to be drawn between librarians and publishers. This neglected what in some ways is the most important player of all, the employer. There seems little doubt that the university owns the copyright in articles, and universities are beginning seriously to turn their attention to this. Whether the article is in printed and/or electronic form probably makes no difference in law to ownership, but custom and practice are important here. A study has just been completed by the Centre for Educational Systems at Strathclyde University at the request of the Funding Councils to review current practice and benchmark the present position against future action. Higher education has turned itself into big business and as a result is beginning to contemplate more fully how to manage its assets. The total turnover in the sector now exceeds £10 billion pounds per annum. An 'average' university will have a turnover in the region of £120-150 million, less than half of which comes directly from the state. More than half of funds now come from a combination of overseas student fees, competitively tendered research grants, endowment income and intellectual property rights. This last can increasingly represent several millions of pounds and the figure is growing. Quite apart from some of the ownership questions raised below, staff structures are increasingly organized to allow some staff additional research time for the benefit of all. Universities have no other purpose than the creation, dissemination, understanding and development of knowledge, and it is inevitable that intellectual property asset management is an area of growing concern.