are policies and procedures copyrightable/ self-plagiarism

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  • I work in an academic library at a state university and one of my untenured librarian colleagues is being charged with plagiarism because she wrote a policy here that is similar to a policy she wrote at a university she worked at 5+ years ago that is posted on the previous employer's library website. (Our director really wants to get rid of this librarian by any means necessary, hence this charge.) My questions- are policies and procedures copyrightable? If the previous employer didn't bring the complaint, does our university have the right to bring it, since it's not our copyright that is in violation? And can someone be charged with plagiarizing their own work in a case like this? Has anyone heard of any similar cases?

    Thanks for any assistance
  • Procedures and policies certainly are subject to copyright protection, insofar as they contain original expression. The owner of the copyright would ordinarily be the author (your colleague), unless the work for hire rules of copyright law would apply and are not waived by a university policy. If work for hire applies, the copyright is owned by the prior employer.

    But copyright infringement is not really the issue here, since plagiarism does not depend on copyright protection or rights ownership. It certainly is possible to plagiarize oneself. Since this is an ethical violation, not a legal one, the norms and policies of the current employer will decide what behavior is culpable. There was a case a little while ago of a university chancellor losing his job because he copied portions of the strategic plan he wrote at a previous school into the one he wrote for his new employer. The new employer felt this was a violation of his job responsibilities.

    Here is a news report of the case
  • Interesting cases, both the original question and the link in ksmith's reply. I'm wondering where the line should be drawn between using your past experience -- that is, adapting what worked before to a new situation -- and plagiarizing yourself? A strategic plan seems to me to be at a much higher level of creativity and uniqueness than a policy and procedure statement, and that case may be justified. But playing devil's advocate here, if I move from one job to another and find myself faced with developing a policy-and-procedure at my new job, and my experience developing the same policy-and-procedure at the former job taught me what worked and what didn't, why wouldn't I use that experience to craft the new procedure? Presumably I was HIRED for my experience and should be using it! So I think that's a shaky case. Particularly since there's only so much variation likely in library policies from place to place, and only so many ways to clearly word certain policies.

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