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GNU is Not Unix

Can University Students GPL Their Submitted Works? 242

Posted by Cliff
from the students-have-IP-rights-too dept.
Mdog asks: "I'm an instructor for The University of Illinois's CS 125 (intro to CS for CS Majors) class. I've been asking around the department regarding the legitimacy of students GPLing their submitted programs. Somebody pointed me to this document which talks about U of I policies regarding intelectual property. Having read the link, I'm still not quite sure what a students rights are in this situation, specifically part that reads that there exists a license which you implicilty agree to...: 'The minimum terms of such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis.' Can I take this to mean: 'GPL compatible'? I'd be curious to know about anybody's experiences at other schools where this question has come up." I've seen several submissions where colleges take total posession of reports and projects created by students in their classes. Such a move would at least give the students some power in how their work is used.
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Can University Students GPL Their Submitted Work?

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  • by howardjp (5458) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:17PM (#142686) Homepage
    At public universities, this work is partially publicly funded so it should end up in the public domain, or at worst, with a BSD or other unobtrusive (Apache or X) license on it.
  • The minimum terms of such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis.

    The GPL extends the right to anyone to use the original work for any purpose whatsoever on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exlusive basis.

  • Most Universities do, in fact, have _published_ policies about all works belonging to the university or larger governing body.

    You can, however, probably derive every project on GNU's hello.c, which would require the resulting work (as a derived work) be GPLed.

    Not a lawyer, so YMMV.
  • by ryanr (30917)
    Sounds to me like he wants an answer for students that *want* to GPL their stuff. Not a bad tactic, actually. It ensures that they will have use of it later.
  • by JojoLinkyBob (110971) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {otacyeoj}> on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:21PM (#142690) Homepage
    Could you create two names for your project, one that is school-specific, and another name for GNU purposes? Then the project takes on two lifes, one where it maintained by the school if they decided to use it for whatever, and your own personal one for open sourcing it on your own?
  • In my experience, the university owns your stuff. By writing software for their courses as a student (solicited by them!), you are handing the rights over to them. Think of it as the university being your employer - you wouldn't expect your employer to allow you to GPL software they asked you to write? Yes, the distinction between public and private domain is important here, and if it seriously *mattered* (does it *really* matter?) then you could probably argue a good case for public funding resulting what it produces being publicly available. Then again, the quality of the work a uni produces can dictate the government funding it receives, and if other unis can just pilfer software that a postgrad has written ... Lots of food for thought, anyway. Luke.
  • by dbarclay10 (70443) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:21PM (#142692)
    From what you just said;

    The minimum terms of such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis.

    Yeah, according to that, the GPL would be acceptable... It gives the University the right to use the original work for anything, perpetually, without royalties. The non-exclusive bits means that the student could license the software to someone else, too, on completely different terms. Doesn't really apply to your question, since it's up to the student whether the University has an exclusive license or not. It's just saying that the University doesn't *require* an exclusive license.

    Dave

    Barclay family motto:
    Aut agere aut mori.
    (Either action or death.)
  • There is a GPL'd Hello World [gnu.org]...
  • it's ethically wrong in my opinion, since the students apparently haven't given you permission to do so.
    Try again; it is not the instructor placing the work under the GPL (how could s/he? only the author can do that!). The issue is that of the students placing their own work under the GPL.

    With that out of the way, I don't see how the university could object. The GPL gives the entire world a perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use the code. Unless the university has some other clause which restricts what the student may allow the rest of the world to do, the GPL would appear to be entirely compatible with the U's terms.
    --

  • yes, and even if the licenses does clash head on, there is nothing wrong with the author of the code releasing it under 2 different licenses.
    One for the university with the university license, and one which the student puts on the internet with the GPL license.
  • legitimacy of students GPLing their submitted programs

    The teacher is asking if it's legal for the students to GPL their own submitted works, because by submitting the works as a class project the students grant certain rights to the university. And even if it were the situation of which you speak, the very act of handing in the assignment is a granting of permission, under most schools' policies.

    Next time, read the article twice instead of gunning for the first post.

  • Actually, there are a way that you could find a nice solution for that problem:
    The GPL still allow you to license the work to someone else. License to the university however they want it, license to others with the GPL.

    I'm sure you should be able put a notice on it that it's released through the GPL and that the University is granted additional rights to the work.

    I'm not going into the technicalities of the GPL if it would allow it without that notice, I'm sure people with more knowledge than me will be posting that. But if you want to play it safe, just release it like that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:29PM (#142704)
    At the University of Texas, we CS grad students are allowed by The University to publish our research code under the GPL. (Indeed, my research group is actively encouraged to do so by our advisor).

    There is also an undergraduate software engineering class that requires you to do a team project, and the result of that is always put under the GPL. (One of the biggest challenges when I was the TA for that class was getting the students to understand that the couldn't just harvest the Web for code, images, etc., and publish the result under the GPL, or any other license for that matter.)

    YUMV.
  • by woggo (11781) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:30PM (#142705) Journal
    students own their homework and class projects, but if you're doing supported research, ownership gets much, much stickier. If a prof starts a new research project or gets a grant, the University will want at least part ownership of any patents/copyrights/etc. (presumably since they are providing the prof with an office and a salary and the notoriety with which to attract grant money). I know that many profs and students have carefully found ways around this (with and only with the aid of a lawyer), but it devolves into a huge Byzantine mess of red tape which anyone would want to avoid.

    I would guess the situation is similar at most American public universities, but mine is a little more progressive than most in many other ways, so YMMV.

    However, what in an intro to programming class could even be nontrivial enough to be covered by a license or copyright? There's a definite lower bound on the size of copyrightable software, and it's larger than most of the programs that most students write for intro classes. (Whether the code produced by intro programming students is worth disseminating is another matter which I'll leave to the trolls and cynics.)

  • by yamla (136560) <chris@@@hypocrite...org> on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:30PM (#142706)
    I checked on this while an undergrad at the University of Alberta [ualberta.ca]. I was told, as an undergrad, I owned any homework assignments or other work that I submitted, though professors and TAs owned the questions themselves and also any comments they gave you.

    Please note that this does not necessarily apply to graduate students. And it may well not apply to your own university.

    Some people have pointed out that students never agreed that all their work should become property of their university. This is, of course, blatently false if (and only if) this is written down in the university code of conduct. I would imagine most universities state this.

    --

  • by MustardMan (52102) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:32PM (#142708)
    only the author can do that!

    Not true. Only the copyright holder can do that. Many universities require that they become sole owner of submitted works, especially with theses and the like. While the professor himself couldn't GPL the code in such a case, he could certainly lobby the presiding body of the university (ie, board of trustees or the like) to do so.

  • by Penrif (33473) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:32PM (#142709) Homepage
    4a: Ownership. Unless subject to any of the exceptions specified below or in Section 4(c), creators retain all rights to traditional academic copyrightable works as defined in Section 2(b) above.

    4c: Student Works. Unless subject to the provisions of paragraph (a) or provided otherwise by written agreement, copyrightable works prepared by students as part of the requirements for a university degree program are deemed to be the property of the student but are subject to the following provisions:

    4c 1&2 regard thesis work, which the University does take some credit in, seeing that it's the degree, basically.

    Thanks for the document, I was about to start a similar search, I'm starting at UIUC in the fall.
  • and it would be beneficial to know who exactly "owns" this work.

    Yup...that's why you ask first. Once you've sunk money into a graduate program, it's really a little late (from your perspective), since the alternative is to pick up and go to a different grad school and waste more time and money. Though probably not effort, since you'll be working on the same thesis. Unless you're a glutton for punishment...
  • by ikekrull (59661) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:32PM (#142712) Homepage
    Link it with a library, or include some code that is itself under the GPL.

    The university may then 'own' it, but they can't distribute it without being bound by the GPL.

    And i doubt any university would go so far as to ban the use of GPLed code, unless you study in Redmond.

  • I know of a few projects here which have wound up in commercial venus. *Usually* a commercial org is sponsoring any major project, but many proejcts aren't and I've seen a few GPL ones. I believe that the student is free to publish their work in GPL, but that the university has just as much a claim to that work so they could release it under different licensing because it does in part belong to them.
  • Uhm, no. If software is paid for by the public using taxpayer money, any taxpayer (which, in case you hadn't noticed, corporations pay taxes too), should be able to use that software for any means desired.
  • by Sodium Attack (194559) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:35PM (#142718)
    A common source of confusion among /.ers about the GPL is the misconception that the GPL applies to software.

    OK, before you start laughing so hard that milk comes out of your nose, hear me out. Of course the GPL is about software. But it limits the actions of people (and people-like organizations, such as corporations, universities, etc.) This is important to understand, because it reveals the flaw in the GPL-as-virus analogy which is commonly used to explain the GPL.

    Suppose I, as the sole author of a piece of software, distribute it under the GPL. This does mean that anyone who licenses it under the terms of the GPL, must also make any derivative works available under the GPL. However, it is important to note what it does not mean: it does not mean that if I make a derivative work, that I have to release that under the GPL. It also does not mean that I cannot license the same software to someone else under a different, non-GPL compatible license. (If you took the GPL-as-virus analogy too far, you might well believe that these latter two were not allowed. But that is not the case. Just because some copies of a program are licensed under the GPL, does not mean that all copies are magically infected.)

    With the UI policy, you license any software you submit to UI under a non-GPL license. (It seems to me that the implied license described in the linked document is not GPL-compatible; it might be well within the university's academic mission to provide students with the compiled version of the program, but not the source code, something forbidden under the GPL.) This does not prevent a student from making the software available to other people under the GPL, but he has already licensed it to the university under a non-GPL license when he submitted the program.

    IANAL.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:35PM (#142719) Homepage Journal
    If you're a student with a project to do, yet inspired to do something extraordinary, keep that inspired idea to yourself, even at the price of a good grade and whatever accolades or awards it may contribute to your portfolio. Do something more mundane, since your college would own it.

    Gee, what a valuable lesson. I wonder if it's been patented yet...

    --
    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • by mindstrm (20013) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:36PM (#142720)
    You said it right in the posting.

    The university requires you (the copyright holder) to grant them (the university) a nonexclusive royalty free right to use the work however they want. Period.

    It does not grant them 'ownership' of the data, it does not take your copyright away, it simply says they can do what they feel like with it once you give it to them, and you can't expect any compensation for it.

    You are perfectly free to also release the code under the GPL (and the BSD license, and a proprietary one, and any other license you feel like, because the code is YOURS)
  • by zpengo (99887)
    Unless I'm mistaken, Yahoo was developed as part of a computer science project.

    I bet the university would have loved to bust out it's IP policies on Yahoo, but somehow I don't think it'd have any effect.

  • As a student, I don't see any reason there should be any restrictions on how you deal with the copyright. The creation is yours and you can do what you want with it. I'm pretty sure the policy you've pointed to is intended for faculty and staff.

    Even as a grad student, I had to sign a nonexclusive license to the Queen (in Canada, as represented by the National Librarian). The copyright remains in my name and if I want to OPL [opencontent.org]/GPL [gnu.org] it, I can.

    Staff and faculty have a more complicated arrangement because their research is technically a "work product" (further complicated by the fact that it's usually funded by the University, a granting agency or two and some private donors). If you ain't getting paid, I wouldn't worry about it.

    Greg

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:37PM (#142723)
    You'd like to think that, but that's not the way it works. Publically funded research (grants and such through the National Science Foundation) does not end up being in the public domain all the time. In some cases it does, but not in all. It's put into the public domain because of what the university decides to do with it, not because they *have* to. Mosaic is a good example. Publically funded, released with "copyrighted, but freely distributable for non-commercial use" on it. The university of illinois made a lot of money licensing it (not as much as they could have, but a lot).
  • My old school, the University of Minnesota, has it's own policy [umn.edu] posted.

    An interesting excerpt:

    1. Intellectual property created solely for the purpose of satisfying a course requirement is owned by the creator and not the university.

    of course there are a bunch of other clauses there that can trip you up.. So best thing to do is ask your university legal department to clarify their policy before you turn in that homework...

  • The minimum terms of such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis.

    Yeah, according to that, the GPL would be acceptable

    I'm not sure I agree. I can easily see that a professor might, as a teaching exercise, want to distribute a compiled version of a program, without making the source code available. This would be within the normal academic mission of the university, but would be prohibited by the GPL.

    IANAL.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I disagree. The possibility that the work was taxpayer funded gives us all the more reason to release it under the GPL. If a corporation (that paid taxes) desired to use the code they would certainly be able to do so under the terms of the license. Any one of us would be able to do so.

    If it were released under another license we could be denied the right to any future improvements which were based on the original code. It is the original code that allowed the improvements to exist in the first place, we as taxpayers have a right to those.

    Aside from the funding the work was still done by the student and their rights and freedoms should be protected above all else. Those who paid the taxes did so to contribute to the greater welfare of the people, what could contribute to that better than the GPL?

  • Wow, who else have you blackmailed?
  • Students pay to use the computers through various student fees. No, they dont have to pay hourly charges or pay everytime they use them. Usually schools charge what is called a student services fee, this basically is a charge for everything else you use at a school besides actual classes. So even if you never used the computers, you are still paying for them. just wanted to clear that small point. please move along
  • First, your students know about the GPL.

    Second, they want to contribute code to the open-source community.

    I'd say go for it! <grin> And be glad that you have other open source geeks in your class. =)

    I guess you can check with your department regarding their official stand on this, as people on Slashdot can offer advice, opinions and thoughts, but can't authoritatively decide anything in your situation. (I think.)

    It seems that the GPL is allowed, but again - check with the university, and hope your uni isn't draconian enough to reject such a nice thing. =)

  • Posted by polar_bear:

    This might open a can of worms at some institutions - one that sorely needs opening! It's ridiculous that a college/university can charge a student tuition and take possession of their work.

    However, not all schools are created equal - many schools either do not have policies or they have more "liberal" policies that allow the student to retain rights over their work, albeit policies that require a student to allow the school to use the work.

    I didn't major in CS, I majored in English/journalism - and at my school I retained my own rights to works that I created...though I had one professor that required classes to sign a waiver allowing him to use works created by his students.

    If a school's policy were challenged, I wonder if it would hold up - especially if it's a policy that's not given to the student up-front when they apply to the school.
  • The fact that they explicitly state that the license you grant them to use your work is non-exclusive means that you're free to also license others to use your work under other licenses (such as the GPL). If they had claimed an exclusive license to use your work, then you would not have been able to do so (as their license would be the only one allowed), but that doesn't appear to be the case.

    So the short answer is yes, you can GPL your work.
  • Yeah, but right in the U of I guidelines it says:

    1) In general, works of students remain the property of the student.

    2) Work done for a graduate student thesis (ie, not classwork, but original research), software or otherwise is owned by the department, but may be given to the student at the discression of the department.

    3) In any case, as a condition of receiving a degree, you implicitly give the university permission to use and distribute a "limited" number of copies of your thesis. (again, this is graduate thesis work, not classwork).

    Occasionally, instructors will want to use your work in future years as an example, or framework for future projects. They always should, and usually do ask permission to do this. In this case, you would retain the copyright but give the instructor permission to use your work for teaching.

    If your instructor provides you with a framework or skeleton code, you may own your modifications, but you don't automatically get rights to redistribute the combined work.

    In short, if you are the sole author of your project, and want to GPL it and put it on Freshmeat, go ahead.

  • No, please please don't do that.

    If you write a program that is linked to a library which you have licensed under the GPL, or using someone else's code, which you are permitted to use under the GPL, you are now bound by the GPL with respect to that code.

    If you subsequently license the program to someone else under a license other than the GPL--either explicitly or implicitly, as in the case here--you are the one who has violated the GPL.

    If you are required to only distribute the software under the terms of the GPL license, but you instead license it to someone else under a different license, and they then take some action which would be in violation of the GPL, you, not they, are the guilty party.

    IANAL

  • by Webmonger (24302) on Monday June 18, 2001 @02:50PM (#142741) Homepage
    Sure. But you don't even need two names. It's enough to release the project under two different licenses-- one for the university, one for everyone else.
  • you write a piece of code that infringes on the DMCA and then turn it in for a class assignment. When you get sued, you tell them "Hey, Fuck Off. My school owns the copyright!"

    yeah, so you'll get kicked out of school. it'd still be funny :)
  • Not quite, 2 EE students were just organizing their research links... "http://www.sun.com/950523/yahoostory.html [sun.com]
    Winton
  • The GPL extends the right to anyone to use the original work for any purpose whatsoever on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exlusive basis.

    RTFGPL. No it doesn't.

    At any rate, since you are granting the University a non exclusive license, I take that to mean that you can license the code to any other party in any way you want. That includes licensing it to the rest of the world under GPL. Of course, IANAL.

  • I wrestled with this question about a year ago. I wrote C code to allow LabVIEW (a very odd graphical programming system) to interface to an obsolete multichannel analyzer card. I wanted to release my code under the GPL, so I checked up on the rules at Arizona State University (your Uni may vary).

    Their basic policy was that you retain all the rights to your work (including the choice of how to license it) if you did it as an "assignment." This even applied if you used generally-available university resources, like computer labs, to do the work. ASU, however, retained the rights to work that you did as a paid employee of the university. Since I was working as a programmer/sysadmin/whatever for a lab at ASU, I fell into the second category, and therefore could not immediately release my work.

    However, not all was lost. ASU (and perhaps your university does as well) and a nice and long form you could fill out to officially declare your intellectual property to the head honcho in charge of IP. If on the form you could convince the IP-honcho that the work had no "significant market value", you could get permission to release it. I decided that this was not worth the trouble, but perhaps you would be willing to go through such a process.

  • I'm not arguing with the applications to this specific case, but to the blanket statement the parent poster made. There's enough general incorrect beliefs about copyright law out there.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that the students have every right (in THIS university's case) to GPL their stuff, but in general that may not always be true.

    Also, a correction to my own post above, only the copyright holder can change the license OR grant permission to do so. i.e. the BSD style licenses.

  • Well, it said "royalty-free", not "condition-free". There's nothing in that little blurb that says that professors don't need to abide by the terms of the license; only that the license must allow use, be perpetual, and royalty-free.

    Assuming the student submitted something under the GPL, it would be the professor's duty to provide source code(at request) for any compiled binaries he dstributed.

    So, the upshot? Either the student's GPL'd work can't be used in the way you suggest, or the student licenses the source to the professor under a slightly modified GPL("if this Program is to be used as an academic example, the compiled Work may be distributed without source, so long as the Program and its source are made available after the course of study").

    The point is that the student retains the copyright; he or she can do whatever they want.

    Barclay family motto:
    Aut agere aut mori.
    (Either action or death.)
  • I'd never thought beginning CS students would ever care for this. For God's sake, it's intro to CS. You don't really expect the students to produce something even remotely useful, do you?

    Now, when it comes to a major thesis, then it becomes interesting to start discussing who should own copyrights to works, but for a basic CS course it should have no interest to anyone. As long as the students deliver their assignments in a form that is technically and legally readable, it doesn't matter to anyone.

    Why bother?

  • by Spasemunki (63473) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:09PM (#142761) Homepage
    I'm not so sure of this. At my school, in undergraduate classes of significant complexity, professors have no problem with students usuing publicly available code, as long as there is significant original content. If you are writing a spiffy new server that performs a fairly novel function for a networking class, no one minds if you make use of an existing bit of GPL code to parse and error check URL's on the client.

    Yeah, infinite hello world is useless to GPL. But I've written some sizable bits of undergraduate code that I, or someone else, might want to use at some other point. If I did some research and found a solution to a problem that someone else might have to solve on the way to solving another problem, then GPLed code could prove to be of use. Allowing GPLing not only ensures that other people will be able to use it, but that the university cannot restrict your ability to re-use your own work in other areas.

    An example: my roomate and a friend wrote a program for a DB class to do image queries by sketch. To do so, they needed something like a paint program. The professor was not interested in their ability to write paint; she wanted to see the scoring method that they had researched which promised to give better matches on image queries. They borrowed a GPL'ed paint program, which could have been written by some other kid at some other college, writing code for a graphic UI class, and adapted the code to work with the system. Two seperate, undergraduate level problems. No reason that one couldn't benefit from the other, however.

    If my college, or the college of the lad who wrote the paint program, were more restrictive about GPL'ing and releasing projects done for the college, my roomate and his partner would have never finished. They would have wasted their time re-writing paint, instead of being able to implement their query algorithms. A really nifty project would have been impossible.

    "Sweet creeping zombie Jesus!"
  • If it were released under another license we could be denied the right to any future improvements which were based on the original code.

    This sounds well and good, but what about those bits in the derivative work which were not funded at taxpayer's expense? The taxpayers did not fund those specific bits. Perhaps a weaker copyleft might fill the bill: "do whatever you want but distribute the original along with the derivation".

    In any event, the reason that taxpayer funded works should be free is so that any taxpayer can use them. Corporations can come along and create derivative works from them, but the originals are still there and available for all. It doesn't go away. Keeping a minimal copyright on it, like the BSD or MIT licenses, is all the protection it needs to guarantee free access for everyone.
  • But only conditionally...

    "For any purpose whatsoever" also includes making derivative works, linking to the work via name referencing, etc. There are many uses that the GPL forbids without certain conditions first being met by the end user.
  • the first time I submitted a compsci assignment with the GPL headers and such attached, I got a funny look from the instructor. She wasn't very aware of what it was and asked me a few basic questions about it. I tried explaining it but mostly got questions like, "But what's this license thing?" or "Did you make it?" or "What does this do for you?" or "So who are these GPL people??". Once she finally got it she did express concern over whether or not this was allowed, since I was submitting it to her, and then she had to submit it to people abroad for grading (crazy program). Anyway, I gave her the GPL overview, and she was easily convinced that it was harmless because I was infact the copyright holder.

    Anyway that was sort of offtopic but I would say, just go ahead and GPL it and wait for someone to say something about it. Then we'll all have a new geeks rights violation submission to flame about :)
  • by macdaddy (38372)
    All you homework are belong to us!

    Seriously I don't think any ugrad-level work should be owned by the university. I don't think the general grad stuff should be either unless they are working on a big project of which the univeristy is sponsoring in some way. Simply using a basic lab machine doesn't qualify in my book. My lab and engineering fees are supposed to cover those resources. Now if I was on some bigass SGI doing DNA simulations or something of the like of which the university had to purchase something for or they had to give me control of a large lab for an extended period of time, then yes I do think that they should have part of my work. Otherwise people would go to school forever to use up the unv's resources and then sell their work to the top bidder.

    --

  • by Azog (20907) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:23PM (#142769) Homepage
    Think of it as the university being your employer
    Why should I think of the university as being my employer, when I'm the one paying to be there?

    Or do you get paid to go to university? If so, then it would make more sense that they own (or, at least have rights to) the work you do there.


    Torrey Hoffman (Azog)
  • So you're saying that any student that links to a library not also owned by their school is violating the law because the school in all their assholishness forces them to cough up their right for their schools use (as if students werne't price gouged enough)?

    I for one would just release my programs as GPL works and post them online before turning them in. I'm not sure if this would qualify as dual-licensed or not but once the code is spread they can't get it back. They can blame you all they want but they can't take it away from the public.
  • Maybe not the first course but the next one or the one after that, students start putting in serious time, and sometimes generate really good code. So then allowing the student to have rights over his code would be good.

    On the other hand, I have had a lot of assignments where the instructor sets up the basic layout, and does a lot of work to aid you in creating your code, lots of time even creating other code/programs to help the students. In this case maybe the instructor should have rights to a program that he designed and orchestrated but didn't actually code.

    Also, just because its an intro course doesn't mean that a more experienced programmer isn't creating advanced code.

  • If I understand this, the University wants a free license to use student work anyway they see fit. At the same time, we have professors at UCLA bringing copyright infringement suits against students who publish their own class notes?
  • I had a marketing course back some years ago and remember an incident where the instructor asked the class to come up with a marketing presentation for some aircraft company and then follow through for mock up purposes. As it turns out this instructor had also taken a project for an aircraft company. It was soon revealed by another student, graduate student with professional ties and contacts, that the instructor was using the presentations and student marketing efforts for his personal financial gain. Whether this is legal or ethical I dont know, but it sounds like students these days are more up to date than instructors and this little clause allows instructors to take several students work, make it into something for the benefit of themselves or the institution.

  • Putting code under the GPL implies that others would want to do something with your code.

    Most of the code I've seen written by students -- including my own, when I was an undergrad -- wasn't of sufficient quality to be worth "protecting" with the GPL. I would be embarassed to defend some of the work I did as a student, heck, I'd be ashamed to admit that some of the first- and second-year code I wrote was actually mine in the first place.

    Putting my first-year card-playing program (learning how to use aggregate types, wheeee) under the GPL would be like a 3-year-old claiming intellectual property rights on a finger painting.

  • by Compuser (14899) on Monday June 18, 2001 @03:47PM (#142786)
    I have had to deal with UIUC IP legal people
    though not regarding software. Go ask them
    yourself. Second floor of Henry Administration
    Building: U of I legal counsel office.
  • At the risk of horribly slashing at my karma, I ask the question that I always ask in this case:

    Why aren't you talking to a lawyer?

    Man, whatever you see here, don't take a word of it as reliable until you take all of your information to a lawyer. In fact, you'll probably find that the campus offers free legal service. Bundle up your papers, trundle down to the lawyer's office and forget that you ever asked what you asked here.

    -h-

  • Well, maybe it's silly to GPL those little labs that everyone does and turns nearly identical code in for. But when I was in IB Compsci we had to do this dossier which was an original project with code, documentation, etc. When mine was done after several months of work, I went ahead and put it under the GPL because it really could be useful to someone.
  • Yes. At UIUC, students own the copyrights to submitted work in general. The one exception that I have a problem with is patentable material. The UIUC policy says that if something is created at UIUC (for example in the lab) and submitted for a class, then any patent rights go to the university. Of course the things that are submitted for assignments are in general nowhere near patentable, but the principle matters.
  • Why not just to get in the habit? Developing good practices and habits is _part_ of education...
  • I ran up against this very issue when I submitted my final year project.. It was written in Perl, and it extended the functionality of an existing Perl module, albeit in a different way.. I was invited to submit a patch, join the development of the module, whatever...

    Then I read about this obscure clause in the university project guidelines which said, "all the work submitted for the project belongs to the university"... back up a minute here.. WHAT ?

    I'd like to add here that this university that I went to encourages projects with "commercial" applications.. its a private university, btw.. Has anyone started using student projects as a basis for products.. well, not yet.. but it always loomed as a possibility, so I went and talked to the Dean..

    Upshot: as long as the university name was prominently displayed, I could claim authorship (is that the right word?) for my work.. It, however, could NOT be GPLed (to their credit, the Dean and Head of Department knew exactly what GPL was).. nothing to stop me releasing it commercially or otherwise, but I couldn't make a profit, and no one else could use it without the university having to be contacted...

    In the end, it was just too much hassle, so I just chucked it up after I graduated.. so, the bottom line: GPL usually isn't an option, but most universities are willing to negotiate on ownership and intellectual property rights.. so talk it over with the Department head or Dean and work something out..!

  • by s20451 (410424) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:10PM (#142792) Journal

    I have heard stories of professors forcing their students to release coursework under GPL (possibly apocryphal, but it has the ring of truth). In particular, in order to receive credit, the students were required to use a header file provided by the professor, which was covered by GPL. As a derivative work, all the resulting coursework inherited GPL.

    So the question is again: who owns the work, and who decides what can be done with it? It's difficult to imagine that forcing someone to use GPL could have nefarious purposes, but imagine that some bright student could develop a novel algorithm, but deliberately holds it back because it might have commercial application? This could be particularly problematic in graduate EE/CS programs. The focal point of the licencing decision process should rest with the student.

  • by Arandir (19206) on Monday June 18, 2001 @04:14PM (#142793) Homepage Journal
    Where did I misread here?..

    You didn't misread anything. You just flunked Basic Law 101.

    The GNU Public License is a *license*. It is an agreement between the licensor (author) and the licensee (user). The terms and conditions of the GPL apply to the licensee and not the licensor. Like most licenses, there are zero restrictions placed upon the licensor. The copyright holder can do what he wants.
  • As sole author you have the right to release your program under as many non-exclusive licenses as you choose. The University's copy goes to them under their license while the copy you put up on Source Forge is under the GPL. Any conflicts between the licenses are irrelevant. GPL compatibility only matters when combining works of different authors.
  • Using the GPL was a *requirement*? What happened to the "free" in "free software"?
  • specifically part that reads that there exists a license which you implicilty agree to...: 'The minimum terms of such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis.' Can I take this to mean: 'GPL compatible'?
    No, it's not GPL-compatible. It grants a license to the University that is NOTHING like the GPL.

    However, since it is non-exclusive, it does not prevent the student from ALSO releasing the code under the GPL, or any other license that doesn't restrict the University's license (e.g., by an exclusivity clause).

    The "and public service" clause suggests that the University could itself publicly release the code under any license it sees fit.

  • I cannot see how the GPL is incompatible with anti-plagiarism rules in universites. It's beyond trivial for students who wish to plagiarize to find examples of previous solutions in any topic, including Comp. Sci. In any cases, the students are free to re-submit the work whether thy got it in a GPL'd form from an ftp site, off of a friend's floppy disk, or from a summer employer's computer, and the university is free to fail and/or expell and/or prosecute them.
  • Obviously their are restrictions that apply the use of GPL'd work (principly around persisting the licence to derivative works and making available changes). However, the GNU GPL is a non-exclusive license. Granting the University a non-exclusive implies that the University is not entitled to exclusive publishing rights over the material. Given that the GPL meets the requirements of the University, the GPL is a suitable license.
  • I'd suggest consulting a lawyer, or contacting your closest ACLU office.

    Another suggestion, do ALL your coding on your own machine. If you don't have one, get one. Decent PC's can be had cheaply these days. That would make it even harder for them to claim ownership.

    If they are claiming that your code is their property, and aren't paying you at least the state/federal minimum wage for it, they are violating numerous labor laws, IANAL.

    I ABHOR this attitude from academia... These are the very same universities that allow their faculty to use school equipment, and even paid TIME to write papers, books, etc, which they then sell and profit from.

    I'd think that a university would have a HARD time justifying that practice while telling the judge that they MUST own all code you write. Such clauses may even be illegal in your state, as it's very similar to some draconian employer NDA/non-compete/etc agreements.

    And becayse you had no choice but to "agree" to it, it might even be null and void on that basis (duress).

    Such clauses haven't been standing up in many places in employer/employee disputes, the fact that you are doing UNPAID (in fact, you PAY to be there) "work for hire" would, IANAL, IMO, strengthen your case.

    And if you write something REALLY great, don't turn it in as work... Sit on it until you are out of school (summer break, etc).

    Imagine if Bill Gates was attending college today, instead of when he did (and dropped out to form Microsoft)... His university might have claimed ownership of his BASIC program... And given today's draconian and anti-individial IP laws (which people like Gates helped create), they might even have won.

    One reason why I despise people like Gates... He now tries to deny the opportunity to others to take advantage of what HE used to get to where he is.
  • If you "derive" the work from the GPL hello.c, does this make your school work plagerism and / or illegal??

    Whether it's illegal is a silly question in this day and age; everything is illegal. But it's only plagiarism if you don't give proper credit for the works of others. In traditional scholarship, whether using part of someone else's work is "illegal" is a silly question; it was simply assumed that any academic works were freely distributable. It was, and is still, dishonest to claim another's work as one's own...

  • If you want to GPL a college assignment, just do it. Release your tarball or whatever to several web sites, your home page, etc., and include a copy of the GPL with the sucker. If your college objects - too late, the source is already out on the internet, and you can always plead ignorance. Even if that doesn't work, I doubt a college will go to great lengths to hassle you over a simple assignment - or even a complex one. They have better things to do, such as spending your money.

    Of course, you can always just release your software on the Internet anonymously, and just say "who, me?" if anyone asks if you wrote the program they just grabbed off an FTP site.

    None of this was intended as a troll, but I just wanted to point out that there's no reason to sweat the finer meanings of rules when they can be avoided altogether with such ease.

  • If a college says "You cannot GPL your work", it follows that since using any GPL-derived code would require you to use the GPL in your own work, you cannot use GPL-derived code. If there is no GPL allowed, then any action which results in your work being GPL'ed would probably be forbidden. Besides, "deriving" from hello.c is not going to impress your prof.

  • That may be your common sense interpretation, but it's not a universal rule. As it happens, you're right about California law. But the reason the law exists is that employers were previously claiming (and compelling employees to grant) ownership of inventions made at home without the employer's resources. Now California employers make employees sign agreements designed to bypass that law by putting the burden of proof on the employee to show that absolutely no company resources were used.
  • ...then I might find it useful to refer to your program to see how it's done. If my teacher permits, I might even want to integrate your program's aggregate-type handeling functions into my prog. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Come to think of it, could you email me that card-player? I really don't know aggregate types.

  • My high school encourages some pretty bad habits. (Using material from the internet and crediting it to dead-tree books, code "sharing" in quotes, etc.

    Also, is the GPL really a good habit to get into? I agree it can be useful, but if I were a prof I'd prefer that students look at the program they're doing and use the liscence that best suits their purpose. The GPL is fine for simpler progs, but I'd want students to get more familiar with commercial liscensing when they start doing commercial-type software, such as databases. The students are there to pick up job skills - picking the right license for the job like any other tool is a useful skill. GPLing everything in sight teaches you nothing.

  • Compatible does not mean the same as.

    Compatible in this context means does the GPL satisfy the University's minimum license terms (As opposed to the usual context of 'GPL compatible' which is the other way around and something along the lines of can something that was released under this license be GPL'ed)

    I can't see any reason why the GPL isn't compatible in this context - can the University use an original GPL'ed work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis? Yes.

    Releasing the code to the University, then releasing it seperately under the GPL is nice, but you might want the copy the university uses to be distributable beyond the university and under the GPL.
  • by VAXman (96870) on Monday June 18, 2001 @06:42PM (#142850)
    First of all, I am a graduate from UIUC's CS program. The department is staunchly against student collaboration, and I think that's really the point here. Most instructors I had would give a zero for the first instance of cheating, and failure for the course on the second instance. Practically every MP (UIUC-speak for "programming assignment") was an individual assignment, except for about one or two small group assignments in my entire college career. Most instructors enforce the no collaboration quite strongly, and they have fairly sophisticated methods to detect collaboration.

    The thing is, this goes straight in the face of the GPL, which is all about collaboration, and sharing. The two cultures are entirely incompatible. Sharing does not really make sense in basic undergrad CS education; your goal is really to weed out non-hackers, and make sure those who do stay are competent enough to do the work on their own.

    Finally, little undergrad coursework is at all interesting to the outside world. When I took CS125 the only interesting MP was for a traffic simulation program, and the most inetersting MP's of my college career were data compression tools and file system implemtation. Of course, none of the stuff compares to existing software. I don't see how GPL'ing any of that stuff would benefit anybody.

    Possibly the only really useful thing you could do is GPL the reference solutions after the asignment deadline. This has the potential to help off-campus students who are interested in learning the material without taking the course. But I certainly don't see how GPL'ing freshman's CS125 assignments will in any way make the world a better place.
  • There is an important distinction here:

    When you work for an employeer, they pay you to write code (or whatever). When you do it, they own it, as a "work for hire."

    A student, on the other hand, pays the university. The student is the employer and not the employee. Thus the student can clearly GPL anything they want to, since they own it.

    And in the same sense that undergrads aren't employees, grad students aren't actually slaves (though the distinction gets blury sometimes).

    -- MarkusQ

    (One caviet though: the university might get snitty and decline to accept homework if it had been GPLed.)

  • Do you go to DeVry too????
  • Yes, the University of Texas System has explicitly supported the release of software under the GPL when appropriate, and they had a checklist for when it was appropriate to release under the GPL.

    I use the past tense because it has been awhile since I have investigated UT policies in this regard. I do know that we released Ganymede under the GPL in compliance with UT system policy. Our release had to be approved by the head of our laboratory, who fits in the UT org chart at the same level as the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Engineering, etc.


    - jon
  • Not true. The GPL is just one license that the UT system has blessed as being in keeping with the interests of the University.

    I don't speak for UT System, of course.


    - jon
  • The issue is very simple, and I'm not sure why people aren't seeing the simple answer. The GPL would prevent the University from doing certain things with the code, such as using it in a project which is closed-source in such a way and circumstances as to violate the GPL.

    However, there is absolutely nothing which prevents the code from being licensed to the University without the restrictions imposed by the GPL, and also to the rest of the world under the GPL. After all, the University's requirements state:

    > such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally
    > administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free,
    > non-exclusive basis.

    The key word here is non-exclusive. Just let the University use the code for whatever as long as they stick to that paragraph and don't use it in a way which violates it, and also release it under the GPL to everyone else. The author of a piece of code can license it out to as many people on a non-exclusive basis as he wants, under as many different licenses as he wants.

    Of course, reading that paragraph I don't see that it conflicts with the GPL in any way since it only requires that the University be allowed to use the code any way it wishes "in its *internally* administered programs," and the GPL is compatible with that. But just in case the University wants to get nitpicky, I wouldn't push it. After all, as long as the code is GPLed for everybody else, and as long as the University doesn't violate its own clause by using the code publicly in a closed-source manner, I don't see a problem, unless you want to get really zealous about it.

    Of course, if you do insist on putting it under GPL for the University's use as well, /. is not the place to ask about it. Just ask whoever in the University is in charge of administering such things. And if no one knows, or no one can figure out who's in charge of such things, just attach the GPL to it and be done.
  • At Oxford brookes University in the UK when handing in our final year projects, worth a considerable amount of our final degree, we get to keep IP rights over the work we do, which would allow us to put that work out under the GPL.
    This seems to be the only occasion that work done on university machines is given that privilege.
    Work done from home probably would count too.
  • I discussed this topic with some length with a lawyer in Canada. No idea if it applies elsewhere but the thought process probably does 1) Just because some university document say "The students give up all human rights" does not make it so. University policy is more or less irrelevant other than the context of what sort of contracts you may have entered and how it fits into local law. Universities often put stuff in their policies that go way beyond what they actually have domain to control. 2) It is very unlikely that local law will see hundreds of pages of policy you never read when you agreed to go to the university as legally binding on issues as important as copyright. 3) If you in any ways used university equipment or computers to do the work, it may very well be seen as a joint creation with the university having some ownership in it. Once they have some tiny ownership, you need joint agreement to do much with it. 4) If the university was paying for your research in the way of a grant or internship, they probably have partial ownership in much the same way an employer might own software you write. Universities are doing their best to generate money from licensing technology - you can count on the fact that your university has some industrial liaison office or technology licensing. To make this work they need to make sure they own everything of any use so their goals are 1) own all IP that professors produce 2) own all IP that grad student produce 3) if they think they can sell own all IP that undergrads produce. Undergrads owning the code are a slipper slope to having the grad students own IP which they are very worried about. They very well could be willing to take you to court over a seemingly silly thing because it sets the stage for more complex things. My personal advice, ask a tenured faculty member if you can GPL the work. If they say yes, ask them to send you that in an email - then go do it. PS - Obviously legal advice from someone who know nothing about your situation, received over the internet, from someone who is not a lawyer - is truly not worth the 2 bits.
  • GPL rules generally require that you acknowledge the origninal copyright holder. It is NOT public domain. If you don't submit your assignment with an acknowledgment of the original copyright, you are in VIOLATION of the GPL.

    If your instructor reads the copyright and doesn't mind that the original was written by someone else, it's not plagarism -- It's research.
    --

  • Netscape, as all UIUC CS students know, was created by Jim Barksdale with the NCSA under UIUC. When Barksdale left U of I, they wouldn't let him take any of the code with him, so he formed Netscape and recoded the thing pretty much from memory. UIUC lost on a lot of profit from that (at least before Microsoft swallowed Netscape). UIUC felt that it should have asked for a cut of the profits to go back in the University, but they got screwed over. And, because of that, any software that gets developed is under a lot more strict guidelines than it used to be. Blame Barksdale, blame UIUC, blame whoever, but that's a lot of the matter. UIUC Legal Dept and Jason Zych himself (all hail the mighty Zych!) should know a lot more. Speaking of which... all this info is from Zych's Computer Ethics lecture from CS 225 - gotta give credit where it's due! ;-)
  • Every student should GPL all of their introductory CS homework. Then, to get real-world experience in open source development, each student should create a project on SourceForge for each of these assignments.

    The world will be a much richer place with hundreds of thousands of implementations to choose from of these useful applications: recursive Towers-of-Hanoi, quicksort tests, infix calculator parsers, Tic-Tac-Toe AI games and rudimentery Java-based web servers.

    Homework that used to be just thrown away will be wasted no more. No longer will the Linux world be lacking for applications.

  • The minimum terms of such license shall grant the University the right to use the original work in its internally administered programs of teaching, research, and public service on a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive basis.

    The GPL allows the University to use the original code as stated... I don't see where the terms of the GPL are in contrast to this requirement. The fact that the GPL goes beyond what the university wants isn't a problem. Even if it was the GPL (as many other people have noted) does NOT restrict the original copyright holder from releasing the code under another license.... and the University lvcense is NOT exclusive, so it should not restrict the student from releasing the code to other people under the GPL (or any other license that (s)he chooses).
    --

  • ""It also does not mean that I cannot license the same software to someone else under a different, non-GPL compatible license.""

    Wrong!

    You mismatched something, you can license the same software under GPL and non-GPL, however of course as common logic implies you can't give out -EXCLUSIVE- licenses after you gave it out under the GPL.

    Second thing patches you receive under the GPL, are also GPL and thus NOT owned by you, so you cannot take over by others improved version of the GPL into you're property licenesed version. Whis is perfect in the sense of the license.
  • I don't understand the fuss about GPL-Compatable licences in the context of dual-licencing. If I own the copyright on the original version, then I can GPL it and release it under whatever other licence I like, no matter how restrictive. If someone acquires it under the GPL, then they have all the additional rights and restrictions on those rights that the GPL grants. If they take it under my "Unto the Seventh Generation" licence, then they have to follow that one. Derivative versions add complexity, where someone acquires the GPL version and changes that, their changes may not be allowed to be crossed over into the UtSG licence.

    Getting back to the subject, it's quite simple - if the uni allows the student to retain the copyright, then they can licence it under GPL. If not, then not. I don't see why it gets complicated.

  • The instructor can do it, by requiring that you would use GPL library.

    --
    Two witches watch two watches.
  • It appears that the exact terms of the license in question are not subject to a student's discretion. So any license that a student does offer is superfluous.

    The policy says works shall be "owned by the creators but licensed to the University." The important distinction is that it does not say that the creators shall license (actually perform the task of licensing) it to the University. Instead, it simply asserts the license's existence and minimum terms.

  • Since the University require a non-exclusive license, you can give them your code under whatever license you want, and also license it under the GPL.
    The University can do whatever it wants with the code you handed them, and you can use your code under the GPL, or any other license that you want.
    It's no different than the dual licensing of projects.

    --
    Two witches watch two watches.
  • then it's the property of the Microsoft Corporation.

    Oh, give them the benefit of the doubt! As in, create a *LOT* of doubt with your monopoly on complex, crappy products, along with fear & uncertainty, and then collect all the benefits, as in $30 bln worth of uncertainty.
  • Some friends and I were just talking about this last week. Our final course here in the CS department involves us doing systems analysis and coding some sort of program for an area business (not too hard at all). The problem with this is, the university sells our services to the business sometimes. Sometimes they donate us, but often they try to make a profit off of the software that we spend a semester coding (well...3/4 of the morons in the major spend a semester anyway). We don't like the professor that teaches this course, so we were going to GPL the project to prevent him from selling it, or owning it.

    One of our best jokes on him is a project that we did analysis on for one of his classes - he has had 3 semesters worth of this final CS class working on the project, and it still doesn't work. He gave us extra credit back in our sophomore year if we could actually finish the project (29 percentage points!!). We did it in a week, and it worked perfectly. A year and a half later, he still doesn't have a working project =)

    Personal vendetta aside, the work that we do is not funded by the public in any way. We have a few workstations of course, but we do all the work - no money received. So why shouldn't we be able to license it the way we want to?

    We plan on GPLing the code regardless of what the university says - it's our work. We've never signed anything that says our work belongs to the university. I have had one big question about this though.

    Once I GPL something, can it ever be "un-GPL'ed"? If we license it, can the university ever take that away from us? I'd be curious....

  • I suppose the best thing you could say about this is that it is a lesson in licensing. Because the professor's header file is GPLed and the professor did not license it any other way, the students' work are indeed derivatives.

    The next best thing is that the GPL restricts the professor, too. If a student comes up with great software, the professor can't steal the code (at least not legally).

    Otherwise, it seems like a sneaky thing to do.

  • by {tele}machus_*1 (117577) on Tuesday June 19, 2001 @05:09AM (#142890) Journal
    DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING WRITING REPRESENTS MY PERSONAL ANALYSIS OF THIS QUESTION. THIS ANALYSIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE, AND SHOULD NOT BE USED AS, LEGAL ADVICE. BY PUBLISHING THIS ANALYSIS, I DO NOT INTEND TO, AND DO NOT, CREATE A LAWYER-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP WITH ANYONE READING THIS ANALYSIS. THIS ANALYSIS SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON FOR ANY PURPOSE OTHER THAN THE READER'S OWN EDIFICATION. EVERYTHING WRITTEN HERE IS MY PERSONAL OPINION AND DOES NOT REPRESENT THE OPINION OF MY EMPLOYER. SLASHDOT'S POLICY ON ATTORNEY INTERVIEWS [slashdot.org] IS EXPRESSLY INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

    The university's policy permits students to keep their broad copyright rights in their works, but requires students to provide the university with specific, limited licenses of use in certain situations. The first situation is original research and investigation (including software) produced by graduate students preparing their thesis. See Section 4.(c)(1)). My off-the-cuff interpretation of this section is that grad students keep the copyright in these original works, but the university gets to keep the work (remember copyright means one owns the rights of production, reproduction, and distribution of a work of original authorship). In other words, the university gets to keep research records, but arguably cannot do anything with it without the approval of the student who created it.

    The second situation also applies to grad students. Grad students, in exchange for the award of their degree (as if tuition wasn't enough, geez), grant the university a right to retain, use, and distribute a limited number of copies of the thesis. This limited license also grants the university the right to require publication of the thesis, but only for archival use (i.e., sticking it on shelf in the library basement). Again, this license is limited. If a university decided to publish a student's thesis as book and sell it in every supermarket, that would clearly be a violation of the license. What might not be a violation is publication and distribution for a conference of only 50 people. (However, if the university printed and distributed 50 copies a year for several years, the student could probably sue for violation of the license.) Again, the student retains the copyright right in the work.

    Although Section 4.(c) is entitled Student Works, the definition of "Traditional Academic Copyrightable Works" (Section 2.(b)) includes works that students might create. Therefore, Section 3.(b) might also apply to student works. Under Section 3.(b)(1), students retain all the rights to works that they create with usually and customarily provided university resources. Section 2.(d) defines "usually and customarily provided university resources." (The definition indicates that Section 3 probably only applies to works created by faculty, but, as mentioned above, Section 3 arguably applies to student works, too.) Section 3(b)(2) provides that works created with resources above and beyond those usually and customarily provided must be licensed to the university for internal use only. Again, I doubt that students would need to worry much about this provision, because most students (even grad students) are not given resources above and beyond those customarily provided. But if that were to happen, the student still retains all rights in the work. The license granted pursuant to Section 3.(b)(2) is extremely limited and only grants the university the right use the work, not to control its distribution or reproduction (except as those relate to its use). Overall, the student gets to keep the bulk of the copyright rights in student-created works.

    Looking to the question of how this university policy interacts with the GPL, the issue becomes if a student publishes a work under the GPL, which license controls the University's rights: the GPL or the University policy? The University policy controls the University's behavior. This intellectual property policy is a contract that the student enters into with the university upon matriculation. The contract controls the relationship between the university and the student. However, it does not control the student's relationship with the outside world. Therefore, a piece of software published under the GPL is controlled by the GPL in its relationship with the world besides the university. There does not appear to be anything in the University's policies that would conflict with the GPL (although, I must admit here that I am not familiar with all the specific terms of the GPL, I only have a general idea of what it provides). The licenses granted to the university do not permit the university to control the distribution or reproduction of the work beyond the walls of the campus. Every license granted in the university policy is a license for royalty-free use. Use is a limited right, and it does not give the university the power to prevent others from using open-source code. These licenses are designed to prevent students from telling the university that it cannot use their works. (If you are distributing your software under the GPL, you couldn't cut off the university anyway).

    The only area of possible conflict between the GPL and the university policy is in regard to original records (software) created in the process of thesis investigation. The university policy provides that the university owns these records. I do not know what "the original records of an investigation for a graduate thesis" might be, but my best guess is that they are the data that a student might accumulate in researching the thesis. I assume that if a student wrote software to analyze this data, this software might also be considered part of the original records. Therefore, the university might own the copyright for any software of this type. This would prevent that software from being distributed under the GPL because the university, not the student, would be the one to make the decision regarding licensing the work (because the university owns the copyright).

    However, I say that the university might own the copyright because, as noted above, it is arguable that the university merely holds the property right to the physical copies of the records, but the student owns the copyright. This distinction is similar to a person owning a compact disk, but the artist owning the copyright to the music on the disk. The person can do anything with the physical disk (e.g., sell it, eat it, trade it), but the artist can control what the person does with the music on the disk (e.g., prevent the person from copying it for another person). Thus, the student might retain the right to control the production, reproduction, publication, and distribution of the original records, but the university gets to keep a copy of those records.

    In summary, a student who creates software as part of the requirements for a degree program keeps all copyright rights, without granting any license to the university. (Section 4.(c)). A student in this situation can publish the software under the GPL, and the GPL will control the student's relationship with the University and the rest of the world. A student who creates a work subject to Section 4.(c)(2) can publish the software under the GPL, but the University policy controls the student's relationship with the university, while the GPL controls the student's relationship with the rest of the world. The University policy is not inconsistent with the GPL (and in fact, the GPL would control the University's behavior in areas not covered by the policy). Students who create works subject to Section 4.(c)(1) might lose all copyright right to those works. Arguably, though, the student retains the full copyright, university merely owns copies of these works.
  • by coats (1068) on Tuesday June 19, 2001 @05:31AM (#142893) Homepage

    IANAL, but...

    Go read through the Copyright Act at the Cornell Legal Information Institute [cornell.edu] and you'll find that under the current (post-Berne-treqaty) copyright law, a work is automatically copyright by its author as soon as he/she saves it to disk. Moreover, the author for the purpose of copyright law is not a third party (i.e., the work is not a "work for hire") unless either it is made in the normal course of employment, or else there is an explicit written grant of title for the specific work in question.

    Students are not ipso facto employees (lots of case law on that, but I don't have it at my fingertips).

    A general college policy does not fit under the "specific written grant" provision, since it does not name the particular work in question.

    OTOH, it is not unreasonable for a university to require the license for internal use of the students' works as a condition for granting a degree (fits the quid-pro-quo consideration required for a valid contract).

    As for

    I've seen several submissions where colleges take total posession of reports and projects created by students in their classes.
    I think that in these cases, it is entirely in order for the students in question to follow the precedents of the Software Publishing Association and the Scientologists. They should get an ex parte court order to go in with Federal marshals and sieze everything in sight to examine it for evidence of the copyright violations that have taken place. And then sue the socks off the bastards, both personally and corporately.

To err is human -- to blame it on a computer is even more so.

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