Video Game Schools Claim Ownership Of Games Created By Students

from the your-first-lesson-in-copyright... dept

An anonymous reader submitted an interesting article about a growing controversy among students at various video game universities, over who owns the copyrights to the games developed by students. The well known DigiPen Institute, for example, makes it clear that all work created by students is actually owned by DigiPen, and this is upsetting some students. Even though DigiPen makes this clear (and even tells students not to submit anything they "hold dear"), it seems troubling for a variety of reasons. It makes little sense for DigiPen to retain the copyrights here. It is quite different than when someone is working for a commercial company and developing games for them as an employee. With DigiPen, these are students who are paying to learn to create video games. As someone notes, if you paint a painting in art school, the copyright doesn't belong to the art school.

DigiPen's reasoning does not make much sense, either, claiming that it needs to do this to "avoid misunderstandings" between DigiPen and the gaming industry. However, it does not explain what those misunderstandings would have been. The whole thing seems questionable, and as some folks note in the article, diminishes DigiPen's reputation. First of all, it likely does (as it should) scare off some of the better prospective students, who fear having DigiPen "own" their creations. Secondly, the way the program is structured, it makes it that much harder to learn if the school itself is telling students not to actually make use of their best ideas.

Filed Under: intellectual property, video games
Companies: digipen


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2008 @ 11:39pm

    Re: Common school rule

    "All students should look in their handbooks."

    Handbooks are not contracts. Neither are school policies. The schools need a signed contract in hand, and that contract must meet all legal requirements to be enforceable. One interesting case would be where the student is below the age of "majority". In some jurisdictions such contracts can be terminated sua sponte by the "minor".

    "Anything you hand in as an assignment (homework, thesis, program, etc...) becomes property of the school."

    Perhaps the documents themselves, but that is an issue totally separate from copyright law.

    "...if you were employed by the school...". Different rules pertain to "employees", but the question to be answered is whether or not a student is in fact an employee. The burden is on the school to demonstrate the student's status as an employee, which is no easy matter and subject to more exceptions than I can begin to count.

    "Right or wrong, for better or worse, those are the rules and are made known to you when you sign up (read those silly papers and handbooks they give you)."

    These are interesting pieces of paper, but of no moment unless somewhere the school can present an actual contract that is fully compliant with state law. Barring a contract, the school is on this (if non-existent) legal ground.

    Remember, under US copoyright law there are essentially two ways to transfer copyright from the author to a third party, namely a contract or under "work for hire" that pertains to an employee.

    Patent law has somewhat different legal requirements, but there are many permutations that call into question whether or not a school can claim ownership of inventions, and one particularly thorny problem facing such schools is if the work is done by a non-employee student performing under a federal funding agreement.

    To say "Contrary to the previous post" is terribly misleading since in many, if not most, instances the school faces a very difficult hurdle it has to clear if it hopes to have any chance of successfully asserting ownership of patents and copyrights associated with student work.

    Remember, here the issue concerns the typical student, and not an employee of the school, and in such circumstances the law generally defaults in favor of the original author and original inventor.

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