IP Rights in Academics

This week, Gamasutra sparked up the debate of IP rights with students in interactive media programs. The article “Controversy In The Classroom: Whose IP Is It Anyway?” starts the debate, but as you can see from the comments there is much more that needs to be discussed. In the Gamasutra article, the statement from the president and co-founder of DigiPen in Washington, Claude Comair:

“We are not here to compete with the games industry,” he says. “We are not here for people to come and make a game in a less-expensive manner utilizing equipment and software that has student licenses.”

“Just as importantly, we are not equipped to properly firewall our projects in the sense that we really don’t know legally speaking how many or which students created which games. We don’t know whether they received input from other students who have not been credited.”

This statement really rubbed me the wrong way on a few levels. The academic institution is skipping an extremely teachable moment by not incorporating IP rights and attribution of work. Will mistakes be made? Very much so. This is an educational institution and mistakes are part of the learning process. Avoiding the issue doesn’t make the issue go away, only defred for the student post-graduation. I can’t see how a student can be prepared to work in a field of intellectual property without understanding the basic law and practice of IP.

The counterpoint is the position is schools should teach the use and practice of tools and the IP should be left for law students. While I’m not claiming that each student should be prepared for entering a pre-law program, IP practice is the core integral part of being a professional artist. You don’t have to fully agree with the practices, but knowing the basics of how business is conducted seperates the professionals from the hobbyists. By denying students how to run the business, DigiPen seems limit student’s ability to become involved with being their own independent participants of this art form. The DigiPen curriculum seems to make worker bees for the game industry, rather than practicianers of interactive entertainment.

Wanting to work for a company is certainly a good choice to make in a career. Hell, that’s the choice I made for myself in my career. I was afforded that choice from my curriculum at Emerson College, rather than forced to that choice as DigiPen’s IP policy states. My education allowed me the choice to either start my own studio or incorporate myself into an existing studio. In either case, I was prepared to be an active and educated individual, rather than one who simply followed orders.

This was afforded to me though the shared distribution policy. While I own the IP rights to Antidote and can do pretty much what I want with the thesis (with some exceptions of commercial software I used), Emerson College has shared publication rights to showcase Antidote. I can do whatever I want with the game, so long as Emerson can show the piece. This way, any IP claims are rested on me, the student. Not the college. Emerson’s not the only institution with this policy, but it’s also one of the reasons why I chose to go to Emerson.

All said, the best policy that meets everyone’s needs is one that passes this test:

Can the student choose to distribute the IP under a Creative Commons license?

I think it’s very important for an academic institution to be able to showcase all work its students submit in their educational career. This is how an academic institution can illustrate the work done at the school for many purposes including enrollment and more importantly academic performance. What’s also important is respect for the students’ work. A policy that divorces the rights away from a student is simply insulting to the student.

Notice that I use the word ‘choose’ and not require. For DigiPen, not only are students not allowed to do a traditional copyright IP license, but they can not choose a copyleft IP license either. In fact, the DigiPen policy prevents one from using any copyleft as DigiPen owns everything. Any sharing is forbidden. There’s simply no choice in the matter. Having the choice of copyleft means that right or left versions can be employed. Even if the school requires sharing of distribution rights, any IP license can be picked.

I do hope this topic gets more attention as it is a very serious aspect of an education in a creative field. Students should know these topics as it is apart of their careers. DigiPen and other schools seem to avoid these topics for the sake of avoiding teaching. This can not be tolerated by anyone.

One response to “IP Rights in Academics”

  1. I agree with just about everything here. I can’t hope but think that this will end up being enough bad press for DigiPen that they may consider revising their IP policy. It only furthers my appreciation that I did not try going to DigiPen.

    My program has a required “Ethics & Law” class, and it absolutely makes sense that anyone working anywhere near software development (which is 100% intellectual property) needs at least a fundamental overview of how IP law affects their work.

    It has caused me to re-check my school’s IP policy. I’ve been over-cautious for the most part, and actually feel good in realizing that my school’s IP policy is ultimately kinder than I thought it was. For the most part students retain their IP rights it appears… I doubt that I’m going to be less cautious based on this news, but I’m happy to hear it.