Hold on, that slide looks very familiar ..

Scholar claims copyright breach after Newcastle uses his lecture material. Melanie Newman writes

May 13, 2010

A professor is embroiled in a row with his former employer after teaching materials he designed were replicated by a successor when his contract came to an end.

Newcastle University admitted that the lecturer who replaced Donald Weetman had "drawn on" his slides, over which he believed he held copyright, without acknowledgement. However, it insisted that this was not a breach of copyright.

In 2007, Professor Weetman, a retired professor of pharmacology at the University of Sunderland, was employed by Newcastle on a short-term rolling contract. There he redesigned a final-year BSc biomedical sciences module.

He said the course had not previously been updated since 1999.

"The module I designed was very different from that delivered earlier," he said. "As I had put considerable effort into the revision, I sought to protect it by making it a condition of the temporary contract that I retain copyright of my teaching materials, including PowerPoint slides."

In an email to the course supervisor during negotiations on the contract, he wrote: "I would be unhappy if anybody ... used the slides in subsequent years in an attempt to run the course ... By retaining copyright, this will not occur."

The professor said this was agreed to verbally: however, no reference to copyright was made in his contract or the conditions of service on Newcastle's website. The contract was renewed in 2008 but not in 2009, when Professor Weetman was replaced by a newly appointed teaching Fellow.

When he checked the new lecturer's PowerPoint slides on the university's website, Professor Weetman said he found that his "concepts and many of the individual slides" were still in use, "including the wholesale transmission of uncorrected typos".

He also claimed that the "concept" of the course, which tracked the commercial development of a drug into a medicine, was identical to his own. Before he updated the module, it had concentrated on clinical pharmacology and did not touch on this process, he added.

In response to the professor's complaint, Jane Calvert, head of the School of Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle, said: "I recognise that you had stipulated ... that a condition of your undertaking this teaching was that you should retain copyright of your lectures."

However, Professor Weetman's successor was unaware of this, as it was normal to share teaching materials within the university, she said. She added that concepts could not be protected under law.

A Newcastle spokesman said: "The university retains copyright on all teaching material as a matter of policy. This is custom and practice in the higher education sector.

"We are aware that Professor Weetman requested that he retain copyright on his lectures, but this did not form part of his contract and we are not aware that anyone agreed to the request."

While a small number of slides in the new module were similar to Professor Weetman's, the majority of his work had not been included, the spokesman added.

"For copyright infringement to have taken place, there needs to be substantial copying of a work that is protected by copyright," he added.

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