Can Schools Copyright Their Students’ Creations?

Tip of the hat to Gamasutra.

A group of students at Redmond, WA-based DigiPen Institute of Technology spent three semesters working on a game that went on to win some awards. Unfortunately, part of the admissions process for this program included signing over the copyright of anything they created for assignments.

The students incorporated and decided to write fresh code to build on the game idea. DigiPen refuses to let them show the previously developed game to investors as a proof of concept.

The school has no ambition to do anything with the game, but they wish to avoid a precedent of allowing students have any claim on their own creations. The school apparently enters games created by students as a marketing vehicle for their game-design program, so they show, but don’t sell, their students’ works.

If this was art school, students would normally own the IP of any paintings or web pages they produce. Yes, instructors help, but they are paid for their help by the students. The school might even help students market their art through events.

If this was biotech, with grad students, the lab would own what the students make. But such students are normally employees. Again, the person who pays usually gets the rights. Here’s an example of such an academic policy.

While I’m not a fan of a university acting in the place of parents for students who have reached majority, claiming rights seems downright adversarial. And requiring that as part of the admissions process seems like a hardball tactic. It would certainly make me consider looking elsewhere for skills training, but perhaps not before anything has even been created.

It seems to me that non-exclusive rights would suffice in this case. Doesn’t it make sense that students be left to assert any rights they might have, regardless of whether they are shared with colleagues? That is, after all, the IP world in which they will create and make their livings in.

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