Student Wins Against Professor's Threats Over Posting Code Online

from the code-is-speech dept

Reader Kyle Brady writes in to tell us his own story about how he fought back against one of his Computer Science professors, who threatened to fail him because he posted the code he wrote online. Kyle is a CS student, and only posted the code after the assignments were due (so it wasn't helping other students). He did so because he figured it might help him find a job to show examples of his coding skills and also because he believes in the value of sharing code. But his professor claimed that it was a violation of school policies, potentially "cheating" and that he could fail Kyle. Kyle responded by going through the school's Academic Integrity Policy, and not finding anything that he violated. When the professor did not agree with Kyle's response (to put it mildly), Kyle contacted the CS department head and explained his position. The department head researched the situation and finally agreed with Kyle that there was no violation of academic policy -- and, more importantly, that professors could not bar students from posting their code online or penalize students from doing so.

I have to admit that I'm rather surprised that a separate issue did not come up. That is, many schools make students sign something saying that any code they create as a student has the copyright automatically assigned to the school. This has resulted in conflicts, as students are surprised to learn that they can't do anything with the code they created as students. I don't know if SJSU does this or not, but you could see a school claiming that since it holds the copyright on such code, that it could prevent students from posting the content. Luckily, that does not appear to be the case in this situation.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    CJM, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:13pm

    "That is, many schools make students sign something saying that any code they create as a student has the copyright automatically assigned to the school"

    Even undergrads? I know grad students typically have to sign such contracts, esp. when working in research, but I never heard of it being applied to undergrads. (Thought I am not in the CS department)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    ADL, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:22pm

    Re:

    In most schools I've heard of, yes, this applies to Undergraduate students as well. I'm glad this never came up at the school I attend, because I always post my code on my website as soon as the assignment is finished ... I don't see how that's academic dishonesty. I've always taken the same stance Kyle took, though I suppose I can see how it would get cloudy if a student a few semesters after me used my code in one of his projects after finding it online ... But, seeing as how I'm no longer enrolled in the class, I don't see why I would be held liable to that. Eh, I guess this could kind of go either way. But I'm glad Kyle won in this case :).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:22pm

    I would say that if I was a student taking the course next semester, I could plan on cruising through at least part of it thanks to Kyle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    A Student from waterloo, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:32pm

    Copyright in Schools

    "That is, many schools make students sign something saying that any code they create as a student has the copyright automatically assigned to the school"

    Just another reason to go to Waterloo if you are a student in Canada; the school aggressively protects student created content and lays no claim to anything created.
    The fine print is that the code/object will be available to Waterloo for educational purposes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    jiminoid (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:36pm

    Perhaps it might encourage the professors to do some work instead of setting the same assignments year after year...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Copyright in Schools

    Which should be perfectly acceptable to most people, since it's just coding examples. Using code for instruction shouldn't violate copyright, anyways (not that I think code should be copyrightable in the first place).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Jon B. (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 4:59pm

    I have to admit that I'm rather surprised that a separate issue did not come up. That is, many schools make students sign something saying that any code they create as a student has the copyright automatically assigned to the school.


    It's a state college. Can a state-sponsored college claim copyright on anything?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Jason, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 5:23pm

    Re:

    Unless of course the prof actually changed the assignments slightly, or simply checked the code against Kyle's or a google search or whatever.

    Even English prof's know how to google, man, c'mon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 6:16pm

    Is there a service similar to "turn it in" for the CS field ?
    If not, it was my idea first - suck it trolls.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 6:24pm

    I love PONYs.

    Pass On Next Year.

    The Prof is probably coasting and not witting new assignments. Good thing computer science doesn't change and he does not have to modify his material. Plus, there are only a limited number of things you could ask a computer to do so his options for testing material is limited.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    CopyJosh (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 6:37pm

    Re: I love PONYs.

    I don't know, as an undergrad CS major, I've been rather impressed with my professors ingenuity in testing and teaching material. There really are limitless possibilities.

    On the matter, I'm glad I haven't had to sign any such thing because I do just what Kyle did as well, post my code online. Sometimes the projects are so time consuming it's the only code I'd write sometimes for months. Who has time for personal projects?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Kyle Brady (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 6:42pm

    Contracts

    Thanks for the writeup!

    I just wanted to point out that I never signed anything, as an Undergrad at SJSU, that would waive my rights of ownership to the school. There may be a hidden clause in some legal document that we're required to read and agree to implicitly, but not as far as I'm aware.

    --Kyle

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 7:47pm

    Copyright

    It is probably illegal for a school to claim copyright when the student is PAYING the school to attend. The student is NOT an employee of the school when enrolled. I'd like to see a class action on this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Urza9814, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 8:04pm

    Turn over copyright?

    "That is, many schools make students sign something saying that any code they create as a student has the copyright automatically assigned to the school"

    I'm an undergrad in CS at Penn State University and have never heard of such a thing. Seems pretty strange that they claim copyright over something you are paying them to have you do in the first place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Narcuru (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 9:33pm

    State School copyright

    As far as I know the state university that I go to (University of Illinois) holds all of my projects as their own when we are done with them (I'm an architecture student so I can only speak for that college). I could ask around if the CS department does the same, but I know we've always been told that any projects we do for our studio class become the ownership of the university.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:51pm

    so you pay the school to learn some shit

    but the shit you learn there you can't use for your own? WTF!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Anthony (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 12:48am

    Re:

    I'm not in the US but when I did my CS course (finishing in 2001) in Australia I had to sign a form that the University maintained ownership on anything I created for assessment purposes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2009 @ 5:32am

    Personally,if I was enrolled in one of the programs, anything I create is mine. I'm not an employee hired to produce something for them, so as far as I'm concerned, they have NO claim to anything I produce. If someone is willing to sign away their rights to the fruits of their labor, well, I guess its on them, but I certainly wouldn't agree to anything like that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Steve R. (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 5:44am

    Open Source - Untapped Potential

    Students, it seems to me, are an untapped resource. I have no idea as to the students assignment, but if it is a typical assignment it is probably a re-hash of a previously solved programming issue. Assignments, to be especially useful should tackle unsolved issues. I would like to suggest that Computer Departments, in developing assignments make them relevant to promoting open software, such as enhancing LINUX.

    The role of universities should be fostering our educational knowledge, not accumulating copyright/patent privileges. Contributing to the development of open source software promotes both learning and society's knowledge base.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Alberto, Jun 12th, 2009 @ 8:15am

    Re:

    At least in the Art Institute (where I went to school for graphic design) we had to do it. Pretty much every major ha to go through that. It might be only in certain private institutions...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    another mike (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 2:53pm

    bit bucket

    I know what sort of code I wrote in school. I wouldn't want to use it again!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Kragen Javier Sitaker, Jun 13th, 2009 @ 3:08pm

    What schools make such demands?

    That is, many schools make students sign something saying that any code they create as a student has the copyright automatically assigned to the school.

    Is there a list of such schools somewhere?

    another mike: Clearly you had access to the code you wrote in school. If at some future point you wrote other code with substantial similarity to that code, it would infringe the copyright of your homework assignments. If the school owns copyright in those assignments, they could sue you or your employer for infringing that copyright. It might be better to avoid such a situation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    evision, Feb 23rd, 2010 @ 8:03am

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This