The Teacher, the Workforce, the School and Copyright

If you work in school who owns the copyright for the original work you do?

Teachers have always worked outside of contracted hours preparing resources and using their own research, equipment and materials to do so. In the digital age with the speed and availability of digital production and publishing it may be useful for teachers to consider what is work and what isn’t and have a clear mental line drawn between the two to guide them in issues of copyright ownership. It is certainly better to do this at the beginning of a project rather than towards the end when a prized piece of work might suddenly become an ‘issue’ bteween the teacher and the school over who 'owns' the copyright and therefore has the right to 'exploit' it.

For teachers and many other adults working in schools copyright arising from the work they do is usually owned by their employer.  The definition of what is work for school is defined by the terms of the conditions of employment rather than by criteria such whether it was created in-school or at home; whether it was done in school time or in evenings or holidays.  The UK IP Office describes the situation: “Where a written, theatrical, 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).”

Teachers have written and published books since schooling began and in most cases an amenable process has evolved where permission is asked of the school/LA and usually given to allow description of the practice of teaching and learning and perhaps the use of photographs of activities or pupil outcomes. Usually acknowledgments to the school, Local Authority and people involved plus an agreement that there won’t be anything derogatory will suffice. The rules with regard to pupil safety and images also apply. In the digital age the same principles underpin e-publishing or teacher websites. Two particular circumstances which need particular attention are where a teacher is involved in software development and decides to develop that work commercially, and, where a teacher has been working as part of a team and wishes to publish as an individual.

Most teachers and staff will work under a ‘contract of service’ though there may be some, such as visiting artists or performers who might work under a ‘contract for services’, in which latter case they will usually own the copyright of their work. Major funded programmes or projects may also have stipulation about copyrights in the agreements they provide for schools.  This may be something to consider when making agreements for projects and work programmes involving external staff or organisations.

If a school (or local authority in Scotland) is asking someone to assign copyrights or provide a licence it should consider maintaining a dated record of publications.

As an employee, a teacher doesn’t, in the copyright sense, have “moral rights” (see Section one, What is Copyright?). If a school publishes work that a teacher has substantially contributed to it can acknowledge the author(s) alongside the copyright citation and in the titling or introduction. In many cases this would be respectful to the teacher’s professional development giving them the opportunity to reference or provide links to work they had done in applications, CVs or in their e-portfolio or personal website.

If a teacher changes employer in moving from one school to another, then strictly speaking, they should request permission to take resources they have created in their work with them. Equally schools should, as part of profession development, allow staff to take some work with them taking care not to include ‘caches’ of licensed materials.

In relation to employment and legal issues most maintained schools in the England work with their Local Authority in some way but the controlling body for, for instance Academies or independent schools, could be their Governing Body or in the case of voluntary aided schools it could be their diocese. In Scotland, apart from one grant maintained school, legal and employment issues in all publicly funded schools come under the remit of the Local Authorities.