Academics and Intellectual Property: Treading the Tightrope

Tom Reid


Most Australian universities still uphold the tradition that an academic's work is performed for the greater public good, and that it is therefore necessary to donate back at least the copyright in the academic's scholarly work to the academic, so that the work may be freely disseminated. However, faced with tighter and tighter budgets, the same universities are increasingly turning to commercial partnerships to add to their revenue. The intellectual property created by academics in the course of their employment, if commercially exploited, is potentially a valuable source of revenue to the university. As a result, there is the prospect of growing conflict between academics and their universities over copyright ownership, and the erosion of the tradition of academic ownership of copyright in scholarly works.

Simultaneously, the notion that an academic is paid for the whole of his or her time is being eroded by the trend toward sessional teaching. Nevertheless, the recent case Victoria University v Wilson illustrates that an academic can still owe fiduciary duties to his or her university capable of covering work performed outside the academic's scope of employment.

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