Copyrights of teachers

Teachers at a school, lecturers at higher educational institutions (universities or universities of applied sciences), apprentice trainers or teachers at other educational institutions (e.g. adult education centres) enter into employment contracts governed by public law (e.g. canton or university) or with private employers (e.g. private school). An assignment of copyrights can therefore be agreed in the employment contract.

If provisions are included in the employment contract or in study regulations which specify that teachers have to assign their copyrights to the educational institutions, these educational institutions acquire the copyrights in the works of their employees. In this case, the teachers may not exercise their copyrights without the appropriate consent of the educational institutions.

⇒ Some examples of regulations:


Assignment of copyrights to an educational institution and publishing contracts

The assignment of their copyrights can be problematic for a teacher at an educational institution if the teacher would like to enter into a publishing contract with a publishing house for the publication of an article, but has also assigned the copyrights in the work to the educational institution, whether under the applicable regulations or the employment contract.

On the one hand, the teacher has to comply with the provisions of the publishing contract; teachers are usually not allowed to publish their articles somewhere else (obligation to desist vis-à-vis a publisher). And on the other hand, teachers are also bound by the regulations of the university or the provisions in their employment contract under which the university also has copyrights and can also decide about the conclusion of a publishing contract.In this case, the teacher will need the consent of the respective educational institution before a publishing contract can be signed. This often gives rise to conflicts of interest: the educational institution also wants to publish the work, but not in the media chosen by the publishing house, e.g. via sources that are freely accessible (in particular Open Access). However, the publishing house wants to have the exclusive right of publication. As the writer of the article, the teacher may want to be paid for the article. This conflict then has to be settled amicably with the educational institution and the publishing house, possibly by way of separate agreements. In individual cases, specifically at universities, this issue is governed by regulations, e.g. Art. 49 of the Staff Regulations of the University of Geneva (Règlement sur le personnel de l’Université de 17 mars 2009) on the assignment of copyrights to the University in the case of conflicts of interest with third parties, or § 15 para. 2 of the ‘Regulations regarding secondary employment, agreements with third parties and the exploitation of intellectual property within the context of university work’ of the University of Basel of 18 August 2004 on the sharing of any compensation relating to the exploitation of copyrights between the University and its employees.

FAQ May a lecturer publish lecture notes that they wrote during their working hours on their personal blog? The lecturer is subject to a cantonal law stating that all rights to the works created while executing their duties belong to the canton.

No, the copyrights (in this case, the right of reproduction and publication) are not owned only by the lecturer, but in accordance with the above legal provision, also by the canton. The lecturer must first obtain the consent of the canton, represented by their line managers. During their free time, a history teacher wrote an article on the history of the school building in which they work. The school would like to publish this article on its website. Can it do this without the teacher’s consent?

No, the school does not have any copyrights in the article. Even if the teacher had assigned their copyrights to the school under the employment contract or the school’s regulations, the assignment does not apply to works that they create during their free time.