Copyright FAQ

Copyrighted works have their own ins and outs that distinguish their issues from patents.

What are Copyrighted Works?

Copyrighted works are intellectual works that are fixed in a tangible form of expression, for instance, books, videos, music, artwork, and software.

When and how do I disclose a software or copyrighted work?

A software or copyrighted work (hereafter, “work”) should be disclosed when something new or useful is developed, when there are requests to use a work by third parties, or prior to publication or other distribution of the work. To disclose, complete a disclosure form and submit it to the OTM. The purpose of the disclosure form is to provide a written, dated record of your work and to provide information that will help determine the best way to protect and transfer it.

Where can I get a disclosure form?

There are two different disclosure forms––one for software and copyrighted works and one for patentable technologies. Only one form needs to be completed.

Who owns works created at the University?

It is not always easy to determine copyright ownership, because ownership is dependent on specific circumstances that lead to a work’s creation. Below are general guidelines for when a work is owned by the creators or by the University. The OTM Software and Copyright Managers will assist in making copyright ownership determinations. For complete definitions and more examples, see the University’s General Rules.

Creator Owned Works:

Works created at the University and categorized as “Traditional Academic Works” or “Student Works” are owned by the faculty or student who created them.

  • Traditional academic works are works created independently and at the creator’s own initiative for traditional academic purposes. Examples of Traditional Academic Works include lectures, manuscript, class notes, textbooks, and course content. In some cases, the University may maintain limited rights to use creator-owned works in teaching, research, and public service. Software is usually not considered a traditional academic work.
  • Student Works are works prepared as part of the requirements for a University degree, such as a thesis or dissertation. While the student owns the thesis, the University retains rights to publish and distribute the thesis as well as ownership rights to the underlying laboratory notebooks and original records of the research.

University Owned Works

The University owns all other copyrighted works . This includes works created as part of a grant or contract and works created as an employment duty or responsibility.

How do I protect my work?

Unlike patentable inventions, copyrighted works are automatically protected under U.S. copyright laws, without having to undergo a formal registration process. However it is still important to affix an appropriate copyright notice to make others aware that they are not free to utilize the work without permission. Works owned by the University should bear the following copyright notice: © 200X The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

If copyright is automatic, why should I disclose to the OTM?

Copyright is only one form of protection and may not cover all aspects of the intellectual property. The OTM may recommend other potentially beneficial forms of protection, such as trademarks and patents.

Because copyright only protects the exact expression of an idea, not the idea itself, copyright protection is more like an acknowledgement of who created the work. Controlling access to the work, via written agreements prior to publication or distribution, is the only effective way to protect the underlying intellectual property. The OTM prepares such agreements (licenses) to clarify who may use the work and under what circumstances.

What is the OTM’s role in making my work available to others?

The OTM is historically thought of as the conduit for commercializing technologies. However, the office is equally involved in assisting non-commercial transfer of software and copyrighted works, such as academic research use and open source licensing. The OTM has a portfolio of licenses that fit many different commercial and non-commercial ways to distribute your work.

What if I want to allow my software to be used in the Open Source?

Open Source licensing is a mechanism for allowing software source code to be used freely by any user. The OTM supports Open Source licensing, where it is appropriate, and will assist you in determining the best method of distribution for the work. There are many different types of Open Source licenses that have been approved by the Open Source Initiative. Each has unique terms and conditions. The OTM most often recommends the University of Illinois/NCSA Open Source License but can help determine if other Open Source agreements may better meet your specific needs. Note that there are ways to distribute source code besides using an open source license. Speak with a software and copyright manager to discuss the available options.

If my work is commercialized, what is my share of the revenues generated?

Net Revenue from the commercialization of University Intellectual Property is distributed 40% to faculty and/or staff inventors/creators, 20% to the creator’s unit, and 40% to the University.  Net revenue is the proceeds remaining from royalties, option fees, licensee fees and/or receipts from the sale of the University’s equity interest in a company associated with Intellectual Property commercialization, after all expenses attributable to intellectual property commercialization are deducted, including patent expenses.  

If there is more than one inventor, the revenues are shared between them with a split they determine. If there is more than one affiliated department, that portion of the revenues is also shared.   If the creators cannot agree, or in situations where there are multiple intellectual properties licensed together, the University shall determine the share of net income attributed to each intellectual property.

The University’s share of net revenues supports, first, technology transfer on the inventor’s campus, and second, academic and research programs as determined by the campus vice chancellor for research.   

I heard that software may be patentable. Is that true?

Yes. U.S. patents may now be made on methods, including software, that are unique and novel. The OTM assesses patent potential on a case by case basis and discusses pros and cons of patenting and other potential protection measures with the creator. For further information about patenting, please see the OTM brochure entitled “Finding Commercial Applications for University Innovations.”

After I disclose, how involved am I in the process?

The creator’s active involvement is important in transferring software and copyrighted works. The creator provides important information and feedback during the evaluation and in determining copyright clearance to ensure permissions of any third party material that may be included in the work. The creator’s role could include meeting with potential licensees, helping formulate a marketing or distribution strategy, and supporting implementation of the work with the licensing entity.