In light of news that a student did not own the copyright to her dissertation, it pays to be aware of your rights.
You may be asked to sign away the copyright and ownership of your work when you begin studying. This could be through signing an intellectual property (IP) release. Your work may no longer strictly be considered your work.
All institutions have different rules. Some let you keep all rights while others want you to give up ownership. Students are not properly briefed on this in most cases. The strange situation generally leads to no issues, but that doesn’t mean there’s no problem in this.
I recommend you do the following things:
- Don’t sign any document/contract/agreement unless you understand what you’re signing. If you don’t understand, question it. It’s hard (if not impossible) to later argue that you didn’t realise what you were signing. However, if the understanding is fundamentally changed or the contract is simply unfair, the contract can be argued and could be worth nothing.
- Check your university’s IP policy. If you’ve already signed away rights, it’s best you know. Even if you haven’t, it’s best you understand how the university regards work that you consider your own.
Due to the recent case mentioned above, I question whether universities should be granted an individual, unique say in regulations. Surely it would be reasonable, easier to understand, and in the interests of students for the issue of copyright and ownership to be made standard across all institutions?
There is an ethical point in this particular case and I don’t have enough information to understand whether or not large parts of the student’s work was used without enough attribution to the author. The author was apparently credited as the third author on the paper, but was this enough? Is this even relevant?
Some people argue this is all standard practice. I don’t think that’s the point. Deeming something standard practice doesn’t make it reasonable. Until a case like the one above gets properly tested in court, I fear there won’t be a proper resolution to the problem.
Whatever the score, make sure you’re in the know. If you have a choice, don’t automatically sign away your rights.