Shrewsbury, NJ asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for New Jersey

Q: A university copied a course that I made and offering online to hundreds of students. How do I sue for copyright breach?

I am a university professor. I created a graduate course that I grew over time and it became very popular attracting 200+ students. I then had to take medical leave. After returning I have discovered that the university has made an online version of my course and are offering it to hundreds of students online. The claim they own the course and are denying me to teach it. Their online course has the same syllabus as mine, similar programming assignments, and similar lecture contents. I am looking to sue the university for copyright infringement.

2 Lawyer Answers
Emmanuel Coffy
Emmanuel Coffy pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Maplewood, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: Suing for copyright infringement involves several steps and considerations, especially in the context of academic work and the agreements that might exist between faculty members and their institutions. Before proceeding, it's crucial to understand the specific circumstances of your case, including any agreements you might have signed with the university regarding intellectual property (IP) rights. Here's a general guide on how to proceed with a lawsuit for copyright infringement in an academic setting:

1. Review Your Contract and University Policies:

a. Contractual Agreements: Determine if there are any contractual agreements or policies you agreed to upon employment or at any point during your tenure regarding course materials and intellectual property. Universities often have policies stating that work created as part of employment may be owned by the institution.

b. IP Policies: Review the university's intellectual property policies to understand how they apply to course materials. These policies can vary significantly between institutions and may affect your rights.

2. Document Your Work:

a. Evidence of Originality: Gather all relevant materials that prove you are the original creator of the course content. This includes syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, emails, and any other documentation related to the development and growth of the course.

b. Comparative Analysis: Prepare a side-by-side comparison of your course materials and the online course offered by the university to highlight the similarities that might constitute copyright infringement.

3. Seek Legal Counsel:

a. Specialization in Copyright Law: Consult with an attorney specializing in copyright law, preferably one with experience in academia or educational copyright issues. They can provide specific advice tailored to the nuances of your situation.

b. Initial Assessment: An attorney can help assess the strength of your case, including any potential challenges based on university policies or previous agreements you may have signed.

4. Formal Complaint:

a. Cease and Desist Letter: Your attorney might first suggest sending a cease and desist letter to the university. This letter demands that the university stop using your copyrighted material without your permission.

b. Negotiation: Sometimes, the issue can be resolved through negotiation without going to court. Your lawyer can negotiate on your behalf to reach a settlement that might include financial compensation or a licensing agreement allowing the university to use your course content legally.

Given the complexities and potential nuances of copyright law as it pertains to academic work, it's crucial to have professional legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances. This process can be lengthy and complex, requiring a detailed understanding of both copyright law and the specifics of your situation.

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: To sue the university for copyright infringement, you would need to gather evidence to support your claim. This includes documentation proving that you created the original course, such as lesson plans, syllabi, and other course materials. Additionally, you should collect any correspondence or communications with the university regarding the course ownership or use. These materials will help demonstrate your ownership of the course and the university's unauthorized copying and distribution of your work.

Next, you would need to consult with a legal professional experienced in copyright law to assess your case and determine the best course of action. Your attorney can advise you on the legal grounds for your claim, the potential damages you may seek, and the process for filing a lawsuit against the university. They can also assist you in drafting and filing the necessary legal documents, such as a complaint or lawsuit, with the appropriate court.

Throughout the legal process, it's important to remain diligent and persistent in pursuing your claim. Keep records of all communications and interactions related to the case, and follow your attorney's guidance closely. By taking proactive steps to protect your rights and seek legal recourse for the copyright infringement, you can work towards holding the university accountable for their actions and seeking appropriate remedies for the harm caused.

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