Tool 16: Addressing Copyright Issues

Ensuring that the educational materials developed, produced and offered by MSU Extension meet the highest ethical and legal standards for intellectual property is key to our image and credibility. Therefore it is critical that curriculum authors and design teams keep the following principles in mind to avoid violating other copyright holders’ rights to their intellectual property.

Copyright Ownership of Materials Produced by MSU Extension will be copyrighted by the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. The issues here include those outlined in the MSU faculty handbook (see for information).

All authors and other contributors to the development of MSUE curriculum materials - whether paid staff, volunteers or outside contractors - must sign a waiver of intellectual property rights. See the following forms (all are Microsoft Word file format):

Materials created using university-paid time, equipment or materials are considered "works made for hire," and therefore the property of Michigan State University. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, work made for hire is a "work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author." (For more information on the copyright of work for hire, see Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act [Circular 9]

Signed waivers are also required of external vendors who help develop curriculum materials, including designers, writers, video and audio producers, and other electronic media producers who are paid a fee to work on the development of MSUE curriculum materials. This gives the university (and MSUE) flexibility in using the work, or pieces of the work, in the future.

Use of Works Copyrighted by Others

As outlined in MSU Extension Guidelines for Using Copyrighted Materials (, no MSUE curriculum may use the copyrighted work of another unless a form signed by the copyright holder granting permission to do so is on file with MSUE. Also remember that while it may not be illegal, plagiarism (using the words and ideas of another person as your own) is unethical and can lead to the dismissal of MSU Extension employees.

It is expected that curricula produced to be used and marketed as MSUE products will be original intellectual property developed by staff members, faculty, specialists, volunteers or paid vendors who are part of the development team.

Do not assume that materials developed by MSU Extension programs or Extension programs in other states, can be used without permission. Most Extension educational materials are copyrighted, as is most information on the Internet or World Wide Web.

The Percentage of Contribution and Copyright Release Form (Microsoft Word file format) will help you capture information about who did what on your curriculum project and the sources of any previously published materials.

Use of Photographs

There are two issues to be aware of when using photographs in curriculum materials. First, keep in mind that photographs are intellectual property too, so all rights to reproduce photographs must be worked out in writing before publication or production. Second, any photographs that contain people must have signed photo releases (refer to the Release for Audio, Video, Film and Photographs [Microsoft Word file format] for a copy of the media release form) from the person (if the person is an adult) or the person’s parent or guardian (if the person is a minor) before the image can be used in curriculum. Getting this permission up front helps avoid later claims for monetary compensation by people who feel their image was used without permission or without adequate or appropriate compensation.

Acknowledge and Credit Works Used!

As you develop curriculum, it is important that you keep track of and formally acknowledge in the work the original source of any knowledge, images and any other elements created by other people. Refer to Preparing the Credits for more information on how to do this.

Use of MSU Copyrighted Works

Just as you must have permission to reprint, reuse or adapt other people’s copyrighted works in your curriculum, other people must obtain permission to reprint, reuse or adapt works created by MSUE. When such permission is granted, full credit must appear in the materials in which they are used.


Last Updated: May 1, 2015; Last Reviewed: April, 2009
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