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Copyright & Patents/Copyright a curriculum


I developed a class that I teach as a contracted worker at a Non-Profit Arts Organization.  I am paid to teach the class, and received no payment for developing the curriculum.  Am I able to copyright the curriculum?  Does the non-profit who contracted me have any rights to it?


"Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, empowers the United States Congress:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Accordingly, Congress has set up a Patent Office and a Copyright Office. Under these laws, the rights to the creative work belong to the author and the rights to the invention belong to the inventor.  

There was a time that a copyright notice needed to be affixed to the work, and the author needed to register the work with the Copyright Office.  Now, you automatically own a copyright in the curriculum that you developed.  It is recommended that you register your work if you want to sell it or there is potential litigation involved.

Many times, the authors and/or inventors assign the writes to their works to their employers or business partner or investor.  Accordingly, you need to check any paperwork that you may have signed with the Non-Profit that may affect your copyrights.

The other issue is that a copyright includes the right to all derivative works.  If the curriculum that you developed might be classified as a derivative work of another who developed a similar curriculum, then you may have infringed that person's copyright.  However, for this to happen, you must have access to the other person's curriculum.  The threshold question here is "What materials did you use to develop the curriculum?"

Abbey, I hope that this helps, and good luck.

Best regards,

 Gearld R. Black
 Attorney and Counselor

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Gerald R. Black


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Registered to practice before the U.S. Patent Office Admitted to Practice Law in Michigan, California, and Ohio

Capital University Law School - JD University of Cincinnati - BSME

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