Salon: Public money, private code
Posted 4 Jan 2002 at 20:18 UTC by advogato
Salon has an interesting article
on the difficulty of many University students, faculty, and staff in
America of releasing their code under an open source license. Academic
development of free software is probably much more important than
commercial development, even though the latter has received much more
press over the last couple of years.
Advogato's own experience is that Berkeley's official policy is quite
stifling. However, the unofficial policy is to ignore the official
policy and release software under whatever license is appropriate. So
far, this seems to work pretty well, but it's a potentially tense
What is the situation like at your school? Also, is there any hint of
this madness spreading outside the borders of the US? Comments are
welcome. Also see this Slashdot
If you're a student at one of these benighted Universities, and
you have an idea for a project you'd like to be sure they can't
abscond with, you might try this:
Get somebody else who is not encumbered to initiate the project.
Get them to create a project on SourceForge or somewhere, with a
prominently explicit GPL license. Contribute to the project,
designing and implementing the publication-worthy "hard parts"
yourself. Make sure your adviser is documentably aware of the terms
of participation in the project (e.g. include the project docs as
an appendix in your progress reports).
Ideally the public project would be bigger than just your own
contribution, so that the recognizably useful product includes
others' work, while the academically interesting part is yours
alone. Instead of initiating a project, you may be able to get
the same effect simply by contributing to an existing project.
This doesn't help projects that are already mired, but it might
help keep new projects from getting mired.
. . .
Another, unrelated remark: it was pointed out that it's hard to
point to projects that would have flowered if only they had been
unencumbered. However, it is much easier to point to projects
that didn't flower until they finally got free. We need to
At UWA, the policy is that students own the work they do (of course, you
wouldn't own contributions from your supervisor). So in most cases,
there would be no problem releasing something as free software. I don't
know if this is standard practice for Australian universities though.
Stanford, posted 6 Jan 2002 at 19:40 UTC by Grit »
Stanford has a policy that
all copyrighted material is owned by the creator (i.e., me) unless it's
specifically work for hire (which work done under an RAship normally
isn't.) They also have a good patent policy: any invention may
be placed in the public domain. (Stanford will take a chunk if
I license it out for profit, though.)
Although this flexibility would allow me to take publicly-funded
research private, it also doesn't stand in the way of making my work
free, either. I'd rather have say over what happens with my creations
rather than have the university decide one way or another.
One of the reasons I am self employed is that I've long intended to
develop my own software products, and I don't want an employer (academic
or private industry) to try to take ownership of my work.
I do release some stuff freely (not as much as I would like) and this
avoids the same problem.
Usually when I am consulting, the work I do for the client is a work for
hire, so I don't get to keep the rights to it, but it is also clear they
don't have any right to work I do on my own time.
I distantly remember that CalTech
had an annoying patent agreement that we all had to sign before we
started studies there. But get this - when I was a graduate student TA
at UC Santa Cruz I had to swear a
loyalty oath in front of a UC employee before I could start my
employment! I thought that went out in the fifties!