Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions About the Columbia University Copyright Policy


April 19, 2000


This document is intended to clarify or explain elements of the Columbia University Copyright Policy that have prompted questions from members of the Columbia community. It will be augmented and revised over time to reflect experience with the implementation of the policy.

1. Can I place works that I create in the public domain?

If, under the policy, you hold the copyright, you may place your work in the public domain. [Section I.D] The only restriction is for faculty-owned course content and courseware; works of this type may be made freely available for academic and scholarly use to recipients who agree that they will not make commercial use of the material. [Section I.D]

If, under the policy, the University holds copyright, the University will, at the request of the creator of the work, make the work freely available to the public if it determines that the benefits to the public of making such work freely available outweigh any advantages that might be derived from commercialization. [Section II.E] The University recognizes that both the University and the public have derived substantial benefits in the past from the University’s participation in the General Public License free software program and similar programs and the University encourages continued participation in such programs.

2. Does “course content” as used in the policy include pre-existing textbooks or scholarly articles that I use as teaching materials in class?

No. “Course content” is not meant to include pre-existing works that are read, discussed, or otherwise used in class. [Section I.E.2.(a)]

3. Is a book that grows out of a course that I teach at Columbia considered “course content” for the purposes of the policy?

While “course content” includes works that are created specifically for use in or as part of a course, it does not include books and similar works subsequently developed from course content that the faculty member seeks to make available commercially or non-commercially. [Section I.E.2.(a)] Furthermore, the policy explicitly recognizes the traditional authorship rights of faculty in books and similar works. [Section I.A]

4. Is any course taught by more than a single person considered an “institutional course” for purposes of the policy?

A: No. The policy notes that the mere fact that a course is taught by a number of individuals does not mean that the course is an “institutional course.” [Section I.E.1(b)]

 5. Do I need permission from the University to teach a course elsewhere in a subject unrelated to the subjects of the courses I teach at Columbia (such as a course in a hobby of mine)?

You are not required to obtain permission from the University to teach a course outside the University in a subject unrelated to the subjects of courses you teach at Columbia. Restrictions on courses taught elsewhere, if any, are covered by the University’s conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies. The copyright policy is intended to be consistent with all other relevant policies of the University. [Section I.E.2.(d)]

6. Does the policy prohibit my teaching one-day short courses at other academic or commercial institutions?

No, that is not the intent of the policy. University policies on conflict of commitment, conflict of interest, and use of the University’s name do apply in this case and faculty should consult with the appropriate dean before teaching such courses.

7. Is any work created under a grant processed by the University considered to have been created with substantial use of University resources beyond the common level provided to faculty?

No. However, if the terms of the grant require that the University hold copyright, the University would assert ownership under Section I.B.

8. Don’t all federal grants require that the University hold copyright?

No. In fact, most federal grants do not require that the University hold copyright in works created as a result of the grant. In this regard, copyright differs from patents. Under federal statute, most federal grants do require that patents resulting from inventions arising from work under the grants be held by the University.

9. The policy requires me to seek to reserve the right to provide the University with a royalty-free right to use articles and related works  within the University. How do I do this?

When assigning rights to the publisher, you should insert language in the agreement that is consistent with, or identical to, the language that appears in Section II.A of the policy: the creator “reserves the right to provide the University with a royalty-free right to use a reasonable portion of the published work within the University for teaching, research, and other non-commercial University purposes.” Experience at other universities at which faculty and other creators have requested such a right indicates that most publishers accept the language and that inserting the language has not led to delays in publication.


Columbia University Copyright Policy