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Stanford Drags Apple Into Court Over Lawsuit Against Dean Saloner

Apple University dean Joel Podolny

Apple University Dean Joel Podolny

Phills, the Stanford filing says, is seeking damages from Stanford over his claim that he lost performance bonuses at Apple because fighting the lawsuit made him less productive and able to work fewer hours at the firm. Stanford has deposed Apple University Dean Joel Podolny, former dean of the Yale School of Management, in the lawsuit. “At his November 11, 2015 deposition, Phills’ supervisor, Podolny, confirmed that Phills’ productivity was not what he expected in creating the Apple University materials and that as a result of Phills’ performance, he only awarded Phills a nominal amount of stock options as part of his annual review.”

Stanford contends that a protective order it entered into with Apple in November protects the company from public disclosure of proprietary information.

As for Stanford’s claim that Phills may have misappropriated university course materials for use at Apple University, the issue of ownership of professors’ work is a charged one. “[I]t has been the prevailing academic practice to treat the faculty member as the copyright owner of works that are created independently and at the faculty member’s own initiative for traditional academic purposes,” says a statement by the American Association of University Professors. The association also reports that, “Despite this general practice and legal understanding, some colleges and universities still proclaim that even traditional academic works are ‘works made for hire’ (done by an employee as part of his/her job), and that the institution is the initial owner of copyright. The most common standard employed by universities for claiming ownership of faculty works is the ‘use of university resources’ or ‘significant or substantial use of university resources.’ However, since there is no tradition of applying this standard, the process of defining it will be one of uncertainty for both parties.”

IF A SCHOOL OWNS PROFS’ WORK, WHO CONTROLS THE CONTENT?

The professors’ association notes that the issue of ownership over instructional materials hasn’t been well tested in court, although rulings to date have favored professors as owners. The group stakes out a strong position on faculty ownership of the instructional materials they create: “Administration ownership of faculty scholarly works, lecture notes and teaching materials would profoundly contradict the practices of the academic community. Faculty scholarship as work-for-hire doesn’t fit, legally or policy-wise, into academic scholarship,” a statement from the group says. “Academic freedom requires that faculty be free to produce work reflecting their own views and theories – not those of administration or trustees. If all work belonged to the administration, then its content would also have to be controlled or at least accepted by the administration, which would vitiate any freedom of thought or inquiry.”

Stanford, in its university copyright policy, cites federal copyright law, but the policy’s list of works that can be copyrighted adds details not found in the U.S. Copyright Office definitions. Stanford’s policy expands the definition of “literary works” to include instructional material and tests, while adopting the rest of the definitions mostly verbatim. Under federal copyright law, ideas, concepts, and principles cannot be copyrighted.

A hearing on Stanford’s motion to force Apply to fork over the teaching materials is scheduled for Jan. 19. Apple did not respond by press time to a request for comment. Stanford said it would not comment because of the ongoing litigation.

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