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.

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