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I'm a teacher in a private school and was asked by the school to develop lesson plans for an existing text book. Eventually that's going to be a manual for the teachers to use for that specific text book.

I am paid for my time doing this, however there are more things I was asked to help with during that the time frame I was given, mainly develop more materials for school.

The lessons plans can be used in any school that uses the same text book hence I would like to protect my rights and make sure it's not going to be used in other different school without my permission. Can I copyright my materials?

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    I’m voting to close this question as off-topic because it does not seem to pertain to academia. It is probably on-topic on Law. Also, it may be necessary to know the pertaining legislature.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 4, 2017 at 8:53
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    @Wrzlprmft It is a question that can be very pertinent to academics, and one that many of them have probably not considered sufficiently.
    – Jessica B
    Jun 4, 2017 at 11:30
  • So, what you could do is to put a watermark on them that is obvious - does not stop others taking it but does show up...
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 4, 2017 at 11:40
  • Your use of the words "lesson" and "school" suggest strongly to me that you're talking about primary or secondary education, which is off-topic, here. (People in the US refer to universities as "schools" but I've never heard "lesson" used in the context of academia.) Jun 11, 2017 at 13:48
  • Others have commented that this is a legal question, not an academic one. Where you are is important. In the United States, what you're writing is a "work made for hire" and the school that pays you likely owns the copyright.
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 16, 2017 at 13:04

3 Answers 3

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As I understand it, in the UK the answer is that your employer owns the copyright, unless they have told you otherwise:

Where a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work (subject to any agreement to the contrary).

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ownership-of-copyright-works#works-created-for-an-employer

(Note: the question 'can I copyright the materials?' doesn't actually make sense. Copyright automatically exists on the creation of a work. Your question is really about who owns the copyright in this case.)

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    Afaik that's the same in all teaching establishments - it's definitely in my contract and I'm in Switzerland.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 4, 2017 at 9:14
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    @SolarMike Not necessarily. A university might well allow academics to retain the copyright of their work. Indeed, I believe that to be considered the norm, although that may be through absence of consideration rather than active thought.
    – Jessica B
    Jun 4, 2017 at 11:33
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    Having worked in the UK and in CH in a University, both had a clause in the contract that stated "any materials created for teaching a course" the copyright belonged to them and you are not allowed to withhold the files or passwords etc. Whether they do the same for published papers for research may be different.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 4, 2017 at 11:38
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As pointed out by JessicaB, the materials are implicitly copyrighted.

Whether the copyright is owned by you or by the school depends on the specifics of your employment agreement, but I suspect if will be the school: teaching institutions generally want it to be easy for course material to be shared amongst the different faculty who teach a course over time.

I would also, however, recommend that you reconsider your apparent desire to prevent others from using the materials that you have prepared. Neither you nor the school are particularly likely to make any money from selling lesson plans, and how does it hurt you if more students than yours benefit from your effort? You may wish instead (if the school allows) to release them under a Creative Commons license, with your authorship clearly marked: that will both benefit more students and might even turn out to benefit you in return.

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In the U.S., in at-least-moderately research-oriented universities, I have the impression that faculty creators of course notes/texts have the copyright (until they make some possible deals with publishers), rather than the institution. This is explicit in my university's policy statements. The corresponding question about adjuncts or contractors hired specifically to create course material seems not (currently) relevant, because I've not seen that happen (in mathematics).

(IANAL, but, ...) In the U.S., there is a notion of "work for hire" (writing/creating something specifically requested by an employer as the central part of one's job), in which case copyright or corresponding rights are by default owned by the employer.

In the case of research-oriented faculty who have no obligation (and won't be rewarded at all for it) to create course materials, I think the current interpretation is that any course material creation is voluntary (and probably not terribly profitable), so they keep the copyright.

I know many people who've created course notes (for mathematics), perhaps most enthusiastically upper-division or grad-level or further, though I've put calculus notes on-line, myself. Doing this, obviously one does not expect profit or control. Many people who've published conventional physical books also have negotiated with publishers retention of copyright + rights to keep things on-line (sometimes with an "embargo" period).

20-30 years ago, when the internet was still embryonic, it was not clear how it would work, and people did worry about "getting credit", and/or profit, and/or people "stealing" their work. (Yes, there do exist TeX decompilers, so not putting the TeX source on-line does not prevent people from recovering the source code, and so on.) Sure, one can try "watermarking" or other steganographic tricks, but, ... Since my university does not consider anything on-line to have any status-enhancing features, anyway, I decided to stop worrying about people "stealing my ideas". Better to spread (hopefully!) good ideas and "not get full credit" than be secretive and be of no help to anyone.

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