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From the moment you create an original work, the work is protected by copyright. OTC advises that you include the following copyright notice on the works you create at UNC:

“© YYYY, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.”

(Note: YYYY means the year of first publication)

This means that you and UNC can make the work available for others to view while maintaining control over its use and ensuring attribution.  A commercialization manager (CM) from UNC’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) will work closely with you to identify and implement your goals for allowing others to use software, videos, assessments, content, educational tools or other works you create at UNC. OTC cannot support UNC researchers with management of personally owned scholarly works (textbooks, journal manuscripts, works of art…). However, the UNC Libraries provide support through the Scholarly Communications Office and as a host of the Peer to Peer Copyright Network.

Contact OTC at or the CM you work with if:

  • A company wishes to use your software, video, content or other work, or
  • You wish to use such work outside of UNC for commercial purposes, or
  • You wish to release such work open-source or place it in the public domain

Distribution of Software/Copyright

The discussion below pertains to software, content, assessments, videos, tools, etc. that are owned and distributed by UNC.

Giving others permission to copy, modify, and/or distribute or otherwise use the work is accomplished through licensing. There are a variety of license types and distribution strategies. The CM will work with you to discuss your goals for distribution and identify the appropriate license. Generally, one or more of the following licenses are used:

  1. Non-Profit Research or Educational Use License
    1. Single copy use
    2. Copy, Display or Distribute, but not Modify
    3. Copy, Display, Distribute, and Modify
  2. Commercial Evaluation License
  3. Commercial Use License
  4. Open Source Software Licenses

A. Non-Profit Research or Educational Use

If you wish to make a work available for non-profit research or educational purposes, please reach out to your CM or OTC at for assistance. The CM will work with you to determine i) if your research funding allows such distribution, ii) if approval by your UNC department or the research sponsor is needed, and iii) the most appropriate copyright and permission notice to achieve your goals. The most common situations are described in more detail below:

1. Single Copy Use. Typically, the work in these cases is a research or educational tool and the UNC researchers wish to allow others to make a single copy of the work for individual use while teaching or conducting research. In this case, the work is usually made available either from the faculty researcher’s or department’s webpage or a distribution platform. This copyright notice makes clear the limits of such use:

“© YYYY, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Permission is granted to reproduce a single copy for not-for-profit research and educational use only. All other rights reserved”

A template copyright notice for “single use” can be found here. Please consult with your CM or OTC before using this notice.

2. Copy, Display or Distribute, but not Modify. Certain copyright materials are most useful when displayed in a setting where the end user is more likely to find them (for example, education videos or brochures). The CM will work with you on the best language to add to the copyright notice to allow others to display or distribute the work. Things to consider in granting display and distribution rights are:

  • Retaining copyright notice when the work is copied or displayed in non-commercial settings
  • Requiring attribution if the work is cited in others’ research publications
  • Preventing others from modifying evidenced-based works
  • Limiting UNC’s liability for others’ use of the work
  • Receiving feedback regarding others’ use of the work
  • Preventing misuse of UNC’s name, relabeling or co-branding

3. Copy, Display, Distribute, and Modify.  If in addition to the permissions granted under Section 2 above, UNC can also give others permission to modify the work.

B. Commercial Evaluation License

If a company wishes to evaluate the software to determine if they wish to license it, the CM will negotiate an “evaluation license” with the company that allows them to use the software internally for evaluation purposes only for a limited time period.  If the company elects to continue to use the work commercially, the CM will negotiate a commercial license with the company.  A commercial copyright license is discussed in the following section.

C. Commercial Use License

The OTC CM negotiates commercial license agreements with companies for software and other works created by UNC researchers. It is common for OTC to license software, videos, content, assessments, evaluation tools, and other works both non-exclusively and exclusively depending upon the nature of the work and the desires of the UNC researchers and commercial partners.  Typically, non-exclusive licenses are negotiated when the software and other works are research tools or general software that can be used in various applications or games and exclusive licenses are negotiated when software is specific to a medical device or services provided exclusively by the company and when a publisher wants exclusive rights to tangible works like videos, images, and content.  Exclusive licenses are often important to startup companies and copyright is included in the Carolina Express License. The CM will work closely with you regarding requests of the licensee during the negotiation, notify you when the agreement is finalized, and keep you informed of license status.  Whether exclusive or non-exclusive, sometimes compensation in a software/copyright license is delivered as an upfront one-time payment or an annual license fee rather than as sales-based royalties. Any license revenue OTC receives from commercialization of software and copyrightable works will most often be shared 40% (authors), 40% (department), 20% (OTC).

D. Open Source Software Licenses

Please contact your CM or OTC to discuss open source licensing strategies. The CM will work with you to determine which open source license is appropriate for the work. It is possible to make software and other works available open source for research purposes and not for commercial purposes under certain licenses.

OTC is supportive of open source licensing; however, before choosing to distribute via open source, you should confirm that any co-authors or sponsors of the software will agree to an open source distribution model. Often there is a standard open source license used by researchers in your specific field of research.  If your software contains other “open source” or “free” software, or any software that you have downloaded, used, copied, linked, or have been provided by a third party, you must identify these codes and their licenses and work with the CM to understand the license terms under which that software has been provided. The CM can assist you with understanding these terms and finding suitable open source licenses.

Once third-party rights, if any, are resolved, there are numerous open source license models from which to choose, including those approved by the Open Source Initiative (“OSI”). However, any license that releases the source code without a required payment is an open source, or sometimes called “shared source,” license. A complete list of OSI approved licenses can be seen at

Related Matters/Additional Support:

OTC and your CM are available to assist you with any of the following matters:

Copyrighting Software vs. Patenting Software

In general terms, a patent protects an idea and a copyright protects an expression of an idea. In the case of software, copyright protects the source and object code, but only protects the code as it is written. A patent conveys the right to prevent others from making using, selling or importing a program that performs the same function or process as the patented software, even if the code is entirely different from the patented software.

It is possible to protect some software under both copyright and patent law, and the CM and OTC will work with you to determine the most appropriate form of intellectual property protection.

UNC ownership of copyright/software created by outside company or consultant “work for hire”

It is common for UNC researchers to hire or work with an outside contractor, company, or friend to write software or create videos or other digital works under a purchase agreement or research grant subcontract. In this situation, it is important that UNC own the work created by the outside party so that control of use and distribution of the work is consolidated within UNC. When working with UNC’s Purchasing Office or Office of Sponsored Research, you should remind them to include “work for hire” language where appropriate. If the outside party is not being compensated, it is still important to have “work for hire” language in a written agreement with the outside party. Your CM and OTC are available to discuss the details of your situation and advise you about these matters.

Collaborative Works

Some works are created jointly by a team of researchers over many years, and it may be impossible to identify all the individuals who authored to the work. When OTC has commercially licensed such collaborative works in the past, license revenue is distributed to the department or center that supported the development of the work. You are advised to discuss commercialization of collaborative works with your department or center leadership prior to or concurrently with contacting your CM or OTC.

Copyright Assignment to UNC

Prior to UNC granting a software or copyright license to any third party, OTC must have confirmatory copyright assignments executed and on file for all authors of the work. This is analogous to the patent assignment executed by inventors listed on patent applications. The confirmatory assignment documents UNC’s ownership such that OTC can execute the appropriate license agreement to distribute the work in the manner we agree to. Except in limited cases, University ownership does not affect your status as an author of a work of copyright, including your right to be cited as the author of the work. You may continue to use the work in your research and teaching activities at UNC and, as an author, you will receive a share of any revenue received by the University resulting from the work’s commercial licensing (currently 40%; if the work has more than one author, the 40% is split equally among authors, unless agreed to otherwise).

Supplemental Disclosure for Software/Copyright

If you are working with a CM to license software, you will be asked to complete a supplemental software/copyright disclosure, the purpose of which is to define the works to be licensed in more detail (i.e. list files, videos, documents, etc.), identify the authors, and identify any third-party works included in the work created at UNC. This information is necessary before UNC can grant a license to the work.

Template for Supplemental Disclosure for Software/Copyright

Specific Software/Copyright Situations:

Speak with OTC and your department leadership prior to engaging in the following situations, which may require COI review and management, depending upon the details of each specific circumstance:

  • Using software or works (other than purchased or open source products) from a third party in your research or teaching efforts
  • Using software or works you created at UNC for commercial purpose
  • Using software or works you created outside UNC for any purpose at UNC
  • Using students to evaluate, edit, or provide content to the works you create

Copyright Ownership

Copyright ownership is addressed in both UNC’s Copyright Policy and Patent and Invention Policy. The factors considered in determining ownership of copyright under these policies focus on the circumstances under which the work was created, the nature of the work, and the employment classification of the author(s). Please contact your CM or OTC if you wish to discuss copyright ownership.

If you wish to make a claim of ownership for a specific work other than for strictly scholarly works (textbooks, journal manuscripts, works of art…), the first step is for you to submit a copy of the specific work to UNC’s OTC for review and determination of ownership. There are practical considerations of UNC and individual ownership of works, as discussed below. In general:

UNC-owned works:

  • You may further develop, evaluate, or conduct research using the work within UNC.
  • UNC resources may be used to copy, distribute, or host the software/work.
  • You will receive a percentage of license revenue UNC receives under revenue bearing licenses negotiated by OTC.
  • UNC’s OTC and Office of University Counsel are available to address any matters or disputes regarding copyright.

Individual owned works:

  • You must maintain a visible separation between your use of the software/work outside UNC and use of the software/work in your research or teaching at UNC.
  • UNC retains the right to use the software/work for its own educational and research purposes.
  • If you continue to use the software/work at UNC, you and your department must ensure that conflicts are always managed or eliminated (including, but not limited to, avoiding situations where students or collaborators are expected to use the software/work).
  • UNC resources may not be used to copy, distribute, or host the software/work without prior approval from your department leadership and possibly COI review and management.
  • You should not have UNC faculty, students, or staff edit, modify, evaluate or beta test the work.
  • UNC’s OTC, Office of University Counsel, and any other resources are not available to address any matters or disputes regarding the copyright.

Guidelines for Ownership of Copyright

The information in the table below is provided as a general summary of copyright ownership under UNC’s Copyright Policy and Patent and Invention Policy. Find more information about open access and scholarly works.

Type of Work Ownership
Software and complex multimedia works that are patentable or commercializable Institution
Works that are subject to both copyright and patent protection Institution
Traditional or non-directed (pedagogical, scholarly, literary, or artistic work) Author of the Work
(except when it is sponsored under contract requiring university or sponsor ownership)
Traditional works or non-directed works involving exceptional use of institutional resources (resources of a degree or nature not routinely made available to faculty or other EHRA employees in a given area)
or where authorship results from contributions over time by multiple authors
Directed work Institution
Sponsored or externally contracted works Institution or Sponsor
(when it is sponsored under contract requiring university or sponsor ownership)
Works authored by SHRA employees Institution
Student works
(papers, computer programs, theses, dissertations, artistic and musical works, etc.)
Student (default)
Institution (when it is prepared in the course of University employment or in connection with sponsored or externally contracted research)

Trademark Protection

If you would like more information about trademark protection or would like to pursue trademark protection, contact Lee Bollinger, Associate University Counsel.