Donna Ferullo

Director of the
University Copyright Office

Music, academic journals and tattoos actually have something in common: U.S. copyright law protects them.

That may be surprising, but it's not cause for worry. As director of the University Copyright Office, Donna Ferullo's job is to inform and educate faculty, staff and students about the delicate balance copyright laws present to those in higher education.

Donna Ferullo

Since 2000, Ferullo has been working at Purdue to shine a positive light on the often-negative perception of copyright. Assisting with research, articles and multimedia pieces from videos and songs to novels and artwork, she translates law into advice for those in need.

What does your role at the University Copyright Office entail?

I work with faculty and staff on classroom and teaching issues, whether it's using a video in class or posting a copyrighted work to Blackboard. I want to ensure that faculty, staff and students can legally accomplish their ultimate goals for a project. I also advise faculty, staff and students not only on the use of other people's copyrighted works, but also on how to manage their own copyrights. It's important for the Purdue community to understand their rights as authors, particularly when they are entering into publishing contracts.

I do a lot of guest lecturing and presentations in classes and within campus departments. I distribute brochures on general copyright and author rights at least once each year to the campus. I try to get the information out there any way I can, whether it's through print materials, presentations, individual consultations or the University Copyright Office website.

I also frequently travel around the country to give presentations. Last October, I co-presented a workshop in Philadelphia at the annual conference of Educause, a national nonprofit. There were some wonderful conversations there about the role of copyright and technology. In April, I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to co-host a copyright summit. About 20 copyright and intellectual property officers from major U.S. universities will attend. One of our goals is to discuss strategies for how we can join together to have a united voice in future copyright legislation, and how to leverage our significant resources to lead copyright conversations in the national and international arena.

What is it about copyright that most interests you?

Copyright has tentacles into every part of our lives, even those areas we might not realize. The laws are in place to allow us to do a lot of different things, but people get scared of lawsuits or of using something incorrectly, so they don't bother moving ahead with a great idea. My thought was that in education, especially higher education, there is so much more faculty, staff and students could be doing if copyright was better understood. My job is to help everyone follow the law while they move forward with creating new works and projects.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I like that I can help people accomplish what they hope to, whether it's in teaching, research or assisting them in managing their copyright. It's very rewarding to assist in facilitating the creative process from the inception of the idea to the development of the work.

Is the University Copyright Office currently working on any initiatives?

I'm currently working with the Purdue Libraries and Purdue University Press to inform our campus about copyright issues involved in adopting an open access policy at Purdue. This involves increasing awareness among authors about the terms of agreements they are signing with publishers, so even if the author does transfer the copyright to the publisher, they retain some rights. When publishing agreements allow faculty and students to deposit their scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles into open access repositories, such as Purdue e-Pubs, they are increasing worldwide access to their work. This is a win-win situation.

In January 2012, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution recommending that the University develop an open access policy. Both the Purdue Graduate Student Government and the Purdue Student Government also passed resolutions in support of an open access policy. This is a significant step forward for the University in recognizing the value and importance of open access. There is still more that needs to happen before a policy is drafted, but the open access initiative places copyright and author rights front and center in the discussion.

What should everyone know about copyright laws?

Contrary to what many may believe, copyright is very flexible. It should not be seen as a barrier to creating new works or to using existing copyrighted works. The essence of the U.S. Copyright law is to encourage people to create new works. The purpose is to balance the rights of owners who have already created something with the rights of the public to use those works. Each instance of copyright is very situation specific, so there is not a universal "yes" or "no." All those that I've worked with know that my first response to their copyright question begins with "It depends."