And the Best Student Films Are Made with, Um, Borrowed Equipment

The DigiPen Institute of Technology has a policy that it owns the copyright in any games its students submit for coursework. At first blush, it sounds outrageous—a digital sweatshop disguised as a school!—but there are in fact non-exploitative reasons for the rule:

“We are not here to compete with the games industry,” [DigiPen president Claude Comair] 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.”

“These are just a few of the reasons why we have this policy,” he adds, “but the bottom line is that DigiPen has never sold any of its students’ games nor do we intend to.

Whether you agree or not (and I don’t), it’s an interesting perspective on how IP rights create both gigantic opportunities and gigantic messes.

Just wondering, what would you suggest? The environment here is very free-suggestion (the metaphor that’s given is different teams in the same company).

My personal preference would be that the school take a nonexclusive license in any work submitted for class, allowing the school to use it as-is. That way the school could maintain archives and show off samples of work. Students who wanted to take their class assignments and market them should be advised to be careful about documenting their sources and proving that they’re the authors. That’s healthy development practice in any event, so it’s a good thing for a school to teach. As for making games on the cheap, I’d want to know more how much of an issue that is; what are the terms on the software licenses schools get, for example? I’d think that there are better ways to deal with free riders than in the IP policy.

But that’s just one thought about how a student-work copyright system could work. I’m very open to the idea that there are many good ways to set one up. An all-GPL system, for example, would treat the school exercises as real showpieces, individual contributions to a larger project of making compelling software meant to be shared.