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Copyright Blog

University Goes on the Offensive Over Copyright Ownership

On August 8, 2019, Columbia University (“Columbia”) sued Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation (“EIF”), asserting various claims and seeking a declaratory judgment regarding copyright ownership of a multi-volume scholarly encyclopedia, the Encyclopaedia Iranica (the “Work”).

In its complaint, Columbia details the history of its Center for Iranian Studies (the “Center”) and the creation of the Work. Columbia asserts that the Work “has become the Center’s most prominent publication and is internationally regarded as the most comprehensive account of several millennia of Iranian history, language and culture . . . .” According to Columbia, the Work was created in 1979, and has been in publication since that date.

Columbia states that EIF was established in 1990 “to help ensure the continuation of the Work by providing financial support for the Work.” Columbia further asserts that EIF is “not involved in the academic and technical aspects of” the Work.

Columbia claims copyright ownership in the Work pursuant to its official copyright policy. It asserts that “[s]ince its inception in 1979, more than a decade before [EIF] was founded, and continuing until the present, the Work has at all times been a Columbia project, the copyright of which is owned by Columbia . . . .”

In 2003, EIF allegedly began listing itself as the claimant on copyright registration filings for the Work. Columbia claims it was unaware of this change until December 2017. In 2015, Columbia states that EIF requested that Columbia transfer copyright ownership of the Work to EIF, and Columbia declined to make the transfer. Columbia further asserts that in December 2017 EIF again requested that Columbia transfer copyright in the Work, and Columbia again declined.

Columbia is seeking, among other relief, a declaratory judgment regarding ownership of the Work.