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By Kenneth D. Crews

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Many academic institutions develop formal policies in an effort to specify whether new works belong to the institution or to the author. The custom at most colleges and universities is to leave most copyrights with faculty authors, and this tradition may not change drastically in the near future. Yet, careful and meticulous rethinking of institutional policies is gaining pace. Some policymakers are reckoning with the changing nature of academic work and are pursuing policies that shift to the institution some ownership rights in faculty works.

You could give away or sell the copyright to these works, but the transfer is legally valid only if the terms of the transfer are in writing and are signed by you. Transferring the object itself is distinct from transferring the copyright. For example, you may create a painting and sell it to an appreciative collector at a hefty price. But selling the painting does not include a sale of the copyright, unless you specifically document the copyright transfer in a signed writing. Neither a high price nor an oral statement of transfer will substitute for the statutory requirements.

102. 4. Act of May 31, 1790, ch. 15, sec. S. Statutes at Large 1 (1790): 124 (repealed 1802). 5. The history of American copyright law is recounted in many articles and books, including Tyler T. A. 49 (Fall 2001): 19–125; and Robert L. Bard and Lewis Kurlantzick, Copyright Duration: Duration, Term Extension, the European Union and the Making of Copyright Policy (San Francisco: Austin and Winfield, 1998). 6. S. C. §§ 405–406 (2005). 7. S. C. § 304 (2005). 8. S. C. § 302(a) (2005). 9. The same term applies to anonymous and pseudonymous works.

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