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Copyright: A Guide

Sole authorship

A Dreamer Dreaming by frame. Film director Borhan Khan

"A Dreamer Dreaming by frame. Film director Borhan Khan" by farihajanam is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In many if not most cases, one person claims authorship (ownership of the copyright). This is the person who exercises "creative control" over a work, someone who is the creative mastermind.


Joint authorship

When two or more authors create a single work with the intent  (preferably in writing) of merging their contributions into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole, the authors are considered joint authors and have an indivisible interest in the work as a whole. Think of a lyricist and composer who share rights in a song. Each own the song and share in it profits from the song. By contrast, if multiple authors contribute to a collective work, each author’s individual contribution is separate and distinct from the copyright ownership in the collective work as a whole.

Work for hire

“Works made for hire” are an important exception to the general rule for claiming copyright. When a work is made for hire, the author is not the individual who actually created the work. Instead, the party that hired the individual is considered the author and the copyright owner of the work. Whether a work is made for hire is determined by the facts that exist at the time the work is created. There are two situations in which a work may be made for hire:

1. When the work is created by an employee as part of the employee’s regular duties, or

2. When an individual and the hiring party enter into an express written agreement that the work is to be considered a “work made for hire” and the work is specially ordered or commissioned for use as:

  • A compilation
  • A contribution to a collective work
  • A part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • A translation
  • A supplementary work
  • An instructional text
  • A test
  • Answer material for a test
  • An atlas

The concept of work made for hire can be complicated and has serious consequences for both the individual who creates the work and the hiring party who is considered to be the author and copyright owner of the work. 

Muhlenberg College policy on authorship

According to the Muhlenberg College Copyright Policy, assignment of authorship (ownership of copyright ) is as follows:

Works prepared by faculty

Typically, Muhlenberg will grant its faculty member ownership of the copyright in scholarly, artistic, literary, musical and educational materials that were wholly developed by the faculty member within the author's field of expertise. For example, at Muhlenberg a faculty member who develops course material or a creative or scholarly work is typically assigned the copyright to that material subject to a royalty-free license granted the College to use the work.

Contractual agreements

An exception to the above rule for faculty works occurs when a prior contractual agreement exists to transfer ownership rights -- for example, for a scholarly article published in a journal that requires (full or joint) ownership of copyright rights -- or when an agreement exists where the College may recoup certain development and/or royalty expenses.

Joint authorship

Joint authorship and merging of content and technologies (such as intellectual content embedded in software such as a learning “game”) creates complications and in these cases ownership rights should be agreed upon prior to creation of the work, be it an online course, multimedia work of art, or software.

Use of significant College resources

Ownership of professional or academic-related material developed with significant College resources is assigned according to a pre-development agreement between the developer and the College.

Other work-for-hire

Material developed by employees of the College other than as specified above (salaried staff, consultants, faculty working in a non-academic capacity for the College, commissioned works by the College, acquired works, or students working for the College in non-academic capacities) is owned by the College unless otherwise agreed in writing.

Student and joint student-faculty work

Professional or academic related material developed by students or jointly by students and faculty are owned by the student and (if relevant) faculty member in keeping with the above guidelines.

For a more detailed discussion of "who owns the copyright," consult with College Legal Counsel via the Provost's Office.



What does "author" mean in copyright terms?

In the realm of copyright, when a person is called the author, this means they own the copyright in the work. Authorship can shift, as the owner of the copyright can shift, through contractual arrangements, inheritance, and so forth.

When does authorship begin?

Authorship begins the moment a work is fixed in a tangible medium. The author is typically the one who creates a work, and so owns the copyright in that work. But there are exceptions, discussed on this page.

In work for hire, what determines employee status?

In work for hire, the courts look at any of several signs to determine employee status:
--if the employee works in a building owned by the employer,
--uses the employer's equipment,

--has a long-standing status as an employee,

--gets employee benefits,
pays taxes to the employer.