What is the status of copyright ownership in works created by academics? Are they works for hire of the academic institution that employs them, or, are they owned by the academic who wrote them? At one level the answer is quite straightforward: the statutory rules on work for hire apply to academics as to all others. There is no special provision for academic works, notwithstanding Nimmer's view (at least at one time) that there is a "teacher exception." On November 3, 2005 SDNY Judge Denny Chin issued a opinion in Pavlica v. Behr that illustrates this.
In Pavlica, a high school science teacher created after hours, on his own initiative, a program on how to teach science students nationwide. His high school agreed he, not the school, owned the copyright. In attempting to disseminate the work, Pavlica got together with two other teachers to receive National Science Foundation grants. After the inevitable breaking up of that relationship and the other teachers' unauthorized continued use of Pavlica's material, suit was filed and a work for hire defense was asserted. Judge Chin denied defendants' motion for summary judgment and let the case go to a jury; from his opinion, it seems he was of the opinion there was no work for hire relationship, bolstered of course by the erstwhile employer's own denial of that relationship.
Other cases have gone the other way: in Vanderhurst v. Colorado Mountain College District, 16 F. Supp.2d 197, 1307 (D. Col. 1998), aff'd 208 F.3d 908 (10th Cir. 2000), amended 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 6637 (10th Cir. April 11, 2000), a teacher's class outline was found to be within the scope of employment. Two 7th circuit opinions are also noteworthy, Hays v. Sony Corp., 847 F.2d 412 (1988) and Weinstein v. University of Illinois, 811 F.2d 1091 (1987), and more recently, the Second Circuit examined the issue in Shaul v. Cherry-Valley-Springfield Central School District, 363 F.3d 177 (2d Cir. 2004).
Collective bargaining agreements and unversity policies are also important sources of information. An excellent review of those policies along with cites to online versions at major universities may be found in Elizabeth Townsend, "Legal and Policy Responses to the Disappearing 'Teacher Exception,' or Copyright Ownership in the 21st Century," 4 Minn. Intell. Prop. Rev. 209 (2003).