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.

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Comments on “Student Wins Against Professor's Threats Over Posting Code Online”

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23 Comments
CJM says:

“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)

ADL (user link) says:

Re: 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 :).

A Student from waterloo says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

CopyJosh (profile) says:

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?

Urza9814 says:

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.

Narcuru (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Steve R. (profile) says:

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.

Kragen Javier Sitaker (user link) says:

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.

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