Public funded works

I ended my question embargo with a bit of a doozy last week, namely:

Why is extension.org not releasing our collected and contributed works under a less-restrictive license to the public? Why are we not granting the public the same rights that we ask our contributors – both individual and institutional – to grant us?

(Background: extension.org’s terms of use – and the individual and institutional contributor’s agreements)

I haven’t heard back yet, but that’s to be expected. It’s a tough question best reserved for phone conferences or face-to-face meetings, and not email. I normally need to make sure these things are on staff meeting agendas to get more discussion.

In the process of putting together that post and double-checking the copyright policies of my employer, it turns out that a major change was made to the copyright policies for Cooperative Extension employees in North Carolina in 2008.

By UNC system and NC State Policy, EPA employees, including non-tenure EPA professionals like myself, have a fairly generous Intellectual Property right to “non-directed works”. That is:

“pedagogical, scholarly, literary, professional, or aesthetic works resulting from non-directed effort. Such works may include textbooks, manuscripts, scholarly works, fixed lecture notes, distance learning materials not falling into one of the other categories of this Regulation, works of art or design, musical scores, poems, films, videos, audio recordings, or other works of the kind that have historically been deemed in academic communities to be the property of their creator.”

In my own case that might be “source code”.

Well, “RUL 06.01.01” changed that policy for employees in divisions that come up under the direction of Extension and Engagement and Economic Development, Suddenly, all of my work, and the work of all Extension EPA employees was deemed to be a “directed work”, ostensibly such that “[extension organizations] must have the right under copyright law to copy, distribute, perform, display, and make derivative versions of such works if they are to succeed in their mission.”

Needless to say this is a significant change. I don’t remember one iota of discussion on this issue within the various divisions. While my contract with the University is subject to the University Policies, I have a 5 year contract, last signed in October of 2006, so I haven’t had occasion to revisit the policies. So I am wondering if this might qualify as a breach of contract. It’s a pretty significant benefit to my employment.

Now, before you get too far into this, and start thinking to yourself “Wha??!?! This moron works on my tax dollars and expects ownership of things he creates with my money?!?”

No. Absolutely not. Let me make it as plainly clearly as I can:

Public-funded intellectual property belongs to the public. No excuses.

No questions. End of story. You paid for it, you should own it. Everyone should own it. Not me, not my University. You.

The only reason I want ownership of my Intellectual Property – paid for by the public, is to give it back to the public.

With that goal in mind, my boss and my colleagues and I have proposed that our department be allowed to release all our intellectual property under a Creative Commons and/or GPL license.

It fulfills the mission of Cooperative Extension, it aligns with our values, and now we wait and see what comes of it. I’m hopeful that our team might be able to be the example for how this should work.

And that perhaps, begs the question, why isn’t all taxpayer-funded work released back to the public?

Inquiring minds want to know.