Copyright in students’ work

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice
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Slashdot has an interesting discussion on copyright in students’ work.

I raised this issue with faculty staff in Birkbeck a year ago and got a very vague answer – which sounded pretty much like “the university has copyright in your work but we won’t enforce it.”

I honesty do not know whether that is true or not and, in fact, the phrase I was required to apply to my MSc project report – “the report my be freely copied and distributed provided the source is explicitly acknowledged” – would represent a breach of the GNU GPL if the university sought to apply it to the Linux patch code which currently sites in my Git repo. (Of course we can argue as to whether or not I have actually distributed anything, and the answer is probably no).

I was left slightly dissatified by the official response to my question, because it suggested the college did not really take the issue seriously, which, given that it is at the heart of some long-running and extremely important debates in software development and distribution seems odd. Though, to be fair, I think the concern was more that someone would try to “go proprietary” on their software rather than allow it to be shared as part of the academic commons.

I would share that concern, of course. But it would not take much effort to allow students to pick from a range of licensing terms that would both protect the college’s desire to share and reuse any software or ideas present in the work while ensuring that other, necessary, licensing constraints are met.


2 responses to “Copyright in students’ work”

  1. The attitude here at Michigan State University is generally that students own the intellectual property in their assignments. (Ownership of research done by students as part of a faculty/student team is joint.) Doctoral dissertations (and, I believe, masters theses) must be submitted through ProQuest/UMI. I think that entails giving them a publication license, but copyright remains with the author (student). I’m surprised that a school would attempt to assert copyright on a student’s work.

  2. Well, the note I was required to put on the front of my project report was not actually a claim of copyright – but rather a licence to copy. But I was verbally told, irrc, that the college claimed joint copyright (perhaps because they would say the supervisor had a role?). I don’t mind – indeed I prefer the work to be openly available rather than in any way shut off. I was more bothered by the fact that the answer was vague and a bit of a brush off: the system needs to be flexible enough to handle the different licensing requirements for the software as well as the words.

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