Earlier this week a friend sent me a couple of links to articles on intellectual property and students. One was about piracy (Future Tense: Piracy Revisited) and it consists of an author explaining how “getting stuff for free” can be stealing. This article mirrors very closely conversations I had with students over the years. It doesn’t often go well. Very often students don’t see how these issues (piracy) really impact them. And lets face it for many students, especially in high school and earlier, it is “all about them.” That is where the second article comes into play.
The second article is about students being able to retain the rights to their own work. (Analysis: Solutions to Student Ownership and The DigiPen IP Problem) The issue here is that some of the top game development educational programs retain the intellectual property rights of the students in their programs. In other words, students who create games as part of their course work are not permitted to sell or otherwise distribute what they create. So if a student creates a game for a course and wants to submit it to the Xbox Live Marketplace they can’t. I would imagine that a lot of students would like to recover some of that tuition money this way.
Now this is not limited to game development or even computer science courses. Take a look at the WPI IP rules for students. I have heard stories of students deciding that they had a school project that had real money making potential and dropping out of college to go into business. I don’t see this as a great win for anyone. The school loses good will and tuition for no return. The student may or may not make money from their project but they do lose out on more education.
This issue comes up with competitions by the way. The Imagine Cup competition from Microsoft tries to make very clear that students retain the rights to their intellectual property if they enter. Though, admittedly, sometimes the legal talk makes that confusing. A number of teams have taken their Imagine Cup projects and made them into businesses though. And that is a great thing! Also as I wrote about the other day, students who take advantage of the DreamSpark program (and are over 18) can enter projects into the Windows Phone 7 market place. Encouraging that entrepreneurial spirit is a good thing.
In the long run I think most schools would benefit most by letting their students retain intellectual property rights. But you should read some of those articles to see all sides of the issue. It’s not all black and white.