Intellectual Ownership of Your Work

I encountered this post online recently. I think it is good food for thought.

I’m so pissed off! I did some work for an organization this summer, and they subsequently printed the discussion document I wrote without my name anywhere to be found. I didn’t make a big deal about it. I have since re-formatted the document for publication and passed it along to the organization for their review and input. I listed myself as first and only author but cited their resource contribution in the acknowledgements.

It now seems like they want to be the authors, with my name listed in the acknowledgements as “project consultant.”

I offered to list them as second author. If they don’t like that, I would be willing to list myself as second author. Part of my thesis work also depends, to a small extent, on a good working relationship between the two of us.

I could call my supervisor in on this as he has always maintained that I had ownership over the information, but I really would like to sort out my own battles. Any suggestions?

Here is my response.

Although, I can understand why you are angry, I believe you need to think this one through some more. You say you did work for this organization. Were you a paid consultant? Were you a graduate research assistant? What was your role in the organization? Was this a policy study or research conducted with their money and you wrote up the results?

You say they want to acknowledge you as a “project consultant.” This tips me off that you were maybe hired as a project director of some sort to shepherd a project through to the end that was part of the activities of their organization. If that was your role, then they have a right to do what they did with the initial report and want you to do now with your article.

I was project director of a university affiliated research organization for several years while working on my Ph.D. The work I completed for them (which was several lengthy reports of surveys and other projects on grants that I helped bring in) were THEIRS, not mine. Sometimes my name got on it as project director, but the director and the university departments involved got credit, not me.

I kept several copies of each report and included the work on my vita, but I could not claim credit for writing anything.

Reformatting the document and offering it under your authorship, without discussing it with them first, will not endear you to them. You should have discussed the potential for a publication with them at the time of the project and then nailed down the particulars of authorship.

I do not like being a wet blanket about this, but if no discussions about authorship and publications coming out of your work were not discussed in the beginning, I am afraid I have to tell you that it is a hard, but valuable lesson to have learned at this point in your career.

If you did discuss those things with them in the beginning, then of course you have a case and go after them!

Good luck.