Freedom of Information Act

February 7, 2019

Questioner: Dan Richard

Posed to: Karen Stone, Vice President General Counsel

We have been informed that the UNF Student Government President has submitted a request for public records which includes faculty syllabi from courses offered recently. As such, here are some questions regarding faculty syllabi.

  1. Are faculty syllabi considered public record?
  2. Are faculty syllabi considered copyright material?
  3. Are faculty syllabi considered copyright material if the faculty member has specifically indicated
    on the syllabus that the material contains a copyright?
  4. Are faculty syllabi considered intellectual property?
  5. If the answer is affirmative to any parts 2 through 4, what responsibility under Florida and/or federal law does UNF and the individuals receiving such information (e.g., the Student Government President) have regarding the redistribution (e.g., publishing, posting on public websites, printing and distributing) of such information?

Response from VP Stone

VP Stone stated [in writing] Intellectual property is a general legal term that encompasses several types of legal protections offered for intangible creations of human intellect, including patent law, trademark law, copyright law and trade secret law. A faculty syllabus is potentially a piece of intellectual property that, under the right circumstances, may be copyrightable.
For a work to be copyrightable, it must be a work of original authorship that has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Therefore, the determination of whether any particular work is copyrightable must be done on a case-by-case basis based on the specific facts related to the content and creation of such work.

In the case of faculty syllabi, the most likely issues of concern are (a) the limitation that facts alone are not copyrightable and (b) the requirement that the work be original. For example, a syllabus that simply lists topics and associated class dates on which the topics will be discussed may not be copyrightable because it is merely a list of facts. Such a limited syllabus may simply not contain sufficient creativity (as embedded in the concept of original authorship) to qualify for copyright protection. In addition, a syllabus that was obtained by a UNF faculty member from a colleague who obtained it from a colleague who obtained it from a colleague may not be copyrightable because it is not an original work of the UNF faculty member and it is impossible to reasonably determine who originally authored the syllabus. Each syllabus would need to be reviewed by appropriate legal counsel and the specifics of its creation discussed to determine whether any particular syllabus is likely to be copyrightable under U.S. law.

In the U.S., the fact that an author claims a copyright interest in a work by including a copyright notice is irrelevant to the ultimate determination of whether a copyright interest actually exists. Including such a notice may help to put others on notice of a claimed copyright interest, but it does not affect the legal analysis of whether a copyright interest actually exists.

Finally, copyright law grants the holder of a copyright several exclusive rights with regard to the work. Disclosure of the work, in accordance with the requirements of a public records or other freedom of information request, does not eliminate or reduce those exclusive rights nor does it grant the receiver of the public records disclosure any rights in the work. Assuming that a particular syllabus is copyrightable, anyone who receives the syllabus as a result of a public records request would not have the right to (a) reproduce the syllabus, (b) distribute copies of the syllabus to the public, or (c) prepare a derivative work from the syllabus. Any and all copyright limits, requirements and exemptions would still apply to the syllabus when in the hands of the public records requestor

Response from the floor by UFF

Dr. Marcon stated that she believed asking what information student government would like without releasing all intellectual property rights would be prudent. Dr. Fenner agreed.