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    Know your rights

    About Intellectual Property Rights at the Universities

    The Finnish Copyright Act is fairly old and in desperate need of renewing.

    There are a lot of things that the Copyright Act is unclear of or have no mention of. Some things have been settled during time in legal praxis and may give some answers that way. But there are a lot of questions that are debatable, since the law does not give answers to all questions. For example the Copyright Act does not have any details about copyrights within an employment relationship. The universities have used some contracts regarding intellectual property rights, which have usually been signed in the beginning of each project the employee is working in.

    However, some universities have also tried to get employees to sign very exclusive contracts about the IPR that simply are not reasonable for the employee. In these contracts the employee is obliged to give away all their rights to their work (for example materials, notes, finished research text) without any compensation and also to agree to very broad variety of terms that may lead to unforeseen consequences for the researcher.

    For example by giving away the right to freely alter their texts in general or for example teaching materials, the researcher/teacher has no way of knowing what form the entity will eventually take or no way or ensuring that they do not end up looking unprofessional because a lot of different people have altered their original work. Also by agreeing that the employer may forward the rights to a third party and possibly gain financial benefit from it, may not be in the best interest of the employee. Giving away all rights may also hinder the publication of some articles and is against the international publication practice.

    The employer may not alter the employment contract during the contract one-sidedly. Therefore the employer may not ask the employee to sign an IPR contract during the employment relationship. If the IPR contract is not reasonable, it may be considered invalid or it may be mediated later. However, in the end, the question of reasonability is a matter for the court to decide, should the employee plead that the contract has unreasonable clauses. Taking matters into court may lead to uncertain end results, take time and be costly.

    Therefore it is always best not to enter contracts that may be considered unreasonable. A lot of the teaching and researching staff (up to 70%) is working under fixed-term contracts. It may be very easy for the employer to persuade the employee in need of a new employment contract to sign an IPR contract, even though the terms are nor favorable or reasonable for them. If the employee is offered an IPR contract or any other contract the employer demands they sign before or with the employment contract and it seems the terms of the contracts are not reasonable, it is wise to contract the local shop steward or the trade union.

    For more information, please visit http://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1961/en19610404.pdf

    Text Mia Weckman
    lawyer, the Finnish union of university researchers and teachers

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