University IP and OpenSource

Richard Watts Richard.Watts at
Fri May 14 09:25:36 UTC 1999

On Thursday 13 May 1999, Richard B. Dietz
<rbdietz at> wrote:

>First a somewhat OT question...
>may a  public university assert a blanket right to IP produced with
>university resources?  This is in reference to <paying> student work not
>that of <paid> faculty and staff.  my university claims it does.

 IANAL, and this is wrt. the UK - I believe it can, but only by
contract - there's usually a clause in the matriculation agreement to
the effect that anything produced during their course is the property of 
the University.

 This is usually ostensibly done to make sure that students can't stop 
people marking or reviewing their work, but this could be done with a
non-exclusive licence instead: I suspect it's really being done with a 
view to collecting some valuable IP.

 The solution to this is either to strike out the offending clause and
see if you can get away with it, or to go to another University: my
own is very clear that, by default, IP is owned by the author(s).

>second question...
>can said university compel the creators of would-be open source projects
>to license these projects under its own terms, whether it be YAOSL or
>something in even greater contrast to the desires of the student
>creators of the work.

 (again, this is a UK answer): If those works were created during the
course of employment, or are covered by a copyright assignment clause
in a contract you've agreed to, they own the copyright and can do
practically anything - up to and including taking your work, selling
it, and keeping the money.

 However, if the clause says something like `all IP created in the
course of your work as a student', and the work wasn't created in the
course of your work as a student, the University has no claim on

 If you're an employee, you have to satisfy the rather more stringent
test of not being created in the course of your employment. OTOH, if
the agreement contains the rather more probable `all IP created whilst
you are a member of this University', you're shafted (but note that if
you take a job writing proprietory code whilst a student and you've
signed this clause, you're also shafted[2]).

 Actually, I would've thought this kind of appropriation of computer
programs and then releasing them in any way, shape or form, was a
fairly dangerous thing for any large body to do in the US, for fear of
patent suits, but there we go...

 Disclaimer: ISTR there's a large body of law which relates to the
obligations of public bodies in the US, some of which may be
applicable - we have far less of it on this side of the pond, and I've
no idea which bits apply.


[1] Though they can decide to play dirty by threatening litigation for 
breach of copyright, patent and/or trade secret law, unless you really 
have nabbed their source code or infringed their patents, they're
unlikely to succeed (though it may cost you lots of money).
[2] Though consent may not be strong enough here - it could be held to 
be an unfair contract term. Ask a real lawyer...

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