Adopted by the Cornell University Board of Trustees Executive Committee on June 28, 1990

Cornell University Copyright Policy


Cornell University is committed to providing an environment that supports the research and teaching activities of its faculty, students and staff. As a matter of principle and practice, the University encourages all members of the Cornell community to publish without restriction their papers, books, and other forms of communication in order to share openly and fully their findings and knowledge with colleagues and the public. The Copyright Policy has been prepared in this spirit and with this intent. The Copyright Policy is intended to promote and encourage excellence and innovation in scholarly research and teaching by identifying and protecting the rights of the University, its faculty, staff, and students.

Copyright ownership and the rights thereof are concepts defined by federal law. University policy is structured within the context of the federal copyright law. The long-standing academic tradition that creators of works own the copyright resulting from their research, teaching, and writing is the foundation of the University's Copyright Policy. Exceptions to this rule may result from contractual obligations, from employment obligations, from certain uses of University facilities, or by agreement governing access to certain University resources. This Policy addresses these exceptions.


It is expected that laws and judicial interpretations of laws governing protection of intellectual property will change from time to time, particularly as they apply to new and rapidly changing technologies such as computer software. New paradigms may require new approaches. As such, this Policy differentiates between traditional intellectual property, such as books, incorporated under "Traditional Works", and newer forms, such as computer software, incorporated under "Encoded Works".

Traditional Works:

Copyrightable Traditional Works such as books, manuscripts, artistic works, movies, and television programs, historically have been the property of the Author [1]. It is not the intent of this Policy to change significantly the relationship between the Author and the University that has existed through the years.

Encoded Works:

Encoded Works include software and other technologies used to support the electronic capture, storage, retrieval, transformation and presentation of digital data and information or to interface between digital forms and other communications and information media. The University will exercise its equitable ownership interest in Encoded Works under the circumstances identified below.


Copyright ownership of all work by academic [2] employees, non-academic employees, or students shall vest in the Author except under any of the following circumstances:

Regarding both Traditional Works and Encoded Works:

I. Subordination to Other Agreements: Copyright ownership of all material that is developed in the course of or pursuant to a sponsored research or other agreement to which the University is a party shall be determined in accordance with the terms of the sponsored research or other agreement. In the absence of terms specifically assigning ownership, the copyright shall become the property of the University only if the terms of such agreement directly or indirectly create University obligations as to intellectual property developed thereunder or if ownership is conferred upon the University by operation of another provision of this Policy.

II. Work for Hire: The copyright of material that is created by a non-academic employee within the scope of University employment or by academic employees pursuant to a specific direction or assigned duty (other than the teaching of courses) from the University or any of its units shall be the property of the University.

Regarding Encoded Works only:

III. Use of University Resources: Copyright ownership of Encoded Works which are developed with the "Substantial Use" of University resources, funds, space, or facilities shall reside in the University. For purposes of this Policy, University resources include grants, contracts or awards made to the University by extramural sponsors. The use of University resources is "Substantial " when it entails the use of University resources not ordinarily used by, or available to all, or virtually all, members of the faculty. As the concept of Substantial Use evolves with changes in the customary working environment, the term may be refined by the Provost from time to time, following consultation with the FCR, and such definition shall be incorporated as an Appendix to this Policy.


Works created by students are additionally subject to the following rules:

A. The University makes no claim to copyright ownership of works created by students working on their own, i.e. not within the scope of an employment relationship with the University or with one of its employees, and not making Substantial Use of University resources.

B. Students working on a project governed by a contract or agreement to which the University is a party shall be bound by the terms of that contract or agreement.

C. Students who are hired to perform specific tasks that contribute to a copyrightable work will ordinarily have no rights to ownership of that work, regardless of the source of funds from which they are paid. In such cases, the party who owns the copyright of the rest of the work will ordinarily retain copyright ownership of the portion contributed by the student.

D. Students working collaboratively with academic employees on projects that result in copyrightable work may be granted the same rights and obligations of copyright ownership as would another academic employee working collaboratively on the project. Students and academic employees should establish these rights at the outset of their collaboration.

E. If none of the above relationships applies, students performing work compensated by the University are subject to the provisions governing nonacademic employees under Section II.

F. Students may also be subject to rules and restrictions of their units, colleges or of the Graduate School which are not inconsistent with the University Copyright Policy. For example, students who copyright their theses or dissertations must grant the University rights to reproduce and distribute copies of their works in accordance with the policies of the University or College.


In recognition of the Author's desire to maintain intellectual control of his or her work, the University will give consideration to views of the Author as to disposition of intellectual property rights when it takes title to a copyrightable work under this Policy. Where the University owns a copyright under this Policy, the Author will be permitted to continue to use the work for his or her own non-commercial purposes. Distribution, if any, to academic colleagues outside of the University will be permitted under approved written agreements obtained from the University Counsel through the Vice President for Research and Advanced Studies.


In cases where the University has copyright ownership of a work under this Policy, the University may, upon request and for good cause shown, assign copyright ownership to the Author subject to a perpetual royalty free license to the University to use the work for its own purposes. Such requests should be submitted to the Vice President for Research and Advanced Studies.


Works potentially falling into the three categories described in paragraphs I through III above shall be promptly disclosed in writing to the Vice President for Research and Advanced Studies or his designee for a determination as to whether title is in the Author or the University. To determine whether an Encoded Work described in paragraphs I through III is patentable, it should be submitted to the Vice President for Research and Advanced Studies for an evaluation.


Some materials created at Cornell are both patentable and copyrightable (e.g., a copyrightable work that embodies a patentable invention). Many Encoded Works may be patentable. For material in categories I, II or III that is both copyrightable and patentable, the Patent Policy of the University shall govern intellectual property rights in the work.


Under current law, ownership of works created by outside consultants and independent contractors could reside in such individuals and not in those hiring them to perform the work at issue. Therefore, those hiring outside consultants and independent contractors should observe the precaution of having a written agreement including an assignment of copyright. Students and non-academic employees working outside the scope of University employment should be considered independent contractors for such purposes. Assistance in drafting such agreements can be obtained from the Office of University Counsel.


Members of the University community may obtain advice, from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Advanced Studies on the application of this Copyright Policy to their work, and from the Office of Sponsored Programs information about restrictions on copyright ownership related to grants or other sponsored agreements.


Disputes arising over the application of this policy and the ownership of copyrights shall be brought to the Provost, who shall refer the matter to an ad hoc committee consisting of three members of the Research Policies Committee of the Faculty Council of Representatives appointed by that committee's chairperson together with the Vice President of Information Technologies and the Director of Patents and Technology Marketing. This body shall report its recommended decision for resolution of the dispute to the Provost, to the Dean of the University Faculty, and the University Counsel. The decision of the Provost will be final. The Provost will render a determination within seventy-five days of receiving written notice of the dispute or the University will relinquish rights to ownership of the disputed copyright.


Except in the case of Works for Hire, described in Section II above, royalty income received by the University through the sale, licensing, leasing or use of copyrightable material, which the University owns pursuant to any section of this policy shall be distributed in accordance with the royalty distribution provisions (Section E) of the University's Patent Policy, as amended from time to time. In the case of such intellectual property owned by the University pursuant to Section II, that share of royalties which would ordinarily be distributed to the creator under the Patent Policy will be deposited in a pool to be used, at the discretion of the University President, to recognize meritorious contributions made by University employees. All employees shall be eligible for recognition.


It is the responsibility of the University and all members of the University community to ensure adherence to this Policy.

Academic staff and other Authors governed by this Policy shall have the obligation to:

The Vice President for Research and Advanced Studies and other University officers have the obligation to respond in a timely fashion, normally within forty-five days, to written requests pursuant to this Policy.

The University shall, furthermore, use reasonable efforts to promote works to which the University owns the copyright under this Policy.


The policies set forth above constitute an understanding that is binding on the University, and on its academic and non-academic employees, students, and others as a condition of their participating in University research programs or their use of University resources. The University may require formal copyright agreements to implement the policy as appropriate, but the absence of such executed agreements shall not invalidate the applicability of this policy.



MAY, 1990

The Copyright Policy uses the term "Substantial Use" in determining when the University claims ownership to the copyright of "Encoded Works" developed by members of the University Community. The purpose of this Addendum is to amplify the definition of "Substantial Use".

For purposes of this Policy "Substantial Use" is the use of resources other than those "ordinarily available" to most or all faculty members.

As of the date of this Appendix, such ordinarily available resources include office space and personal office equipment, office computer workstations, library and other general use information resources, and the means of network access to such resources. Incidental involvement of students receiving funding from the University is also excluded from the definition of "Substantial Use".

The symbiotic nature of the relationship between the University and its faculty produces benefits to both in the nature of enhanced prestige and increased grant support. The University, therefore, wishes to encourage teaching, scholarship and research activities on the part of its faculty and makes its facilities available to aid in the achievement of these ends.

Nevertheless, the University does have a legitimate right to participate in the management, protection and marketing of intellectual property rights where substantial use has been made of its resources.

The above definition of Substantial Use may be changed from time to time by the Provost to reflect changes in technological paradigms.

Finally, it is important to recognize that where the Author's intent is to generate private revenues, that is, commercial development, such activity may constitute a conflict of interest and should be reviewed under the standards contained in that policy [3] as well.

Robert Barker
Senior Provost
May, 1990


1. For purposes of this Policy, "Author" shall refer to the creator of a work.

2. For purposes of this Policy, the term "academic" shall apply to those positions described in Article XVI of the University Bylaws.

3. The Conflicts of Interest Policy was adopted by the Board of Trustees in May, 1986.

CCTEC Home Page

Last modified: 02/05/01
©Cornell University