Knowledge sharing on Intellectual Property

IP sessionIn Bristol we had Rowan Wilson (OSS Watch) and Daniel Ratzinger (Call for Participants) fielding your questions about Intellectual Property. We noted down some key pointers:

What is IP?

  •  ‘Intellectual Property’ refers and applies to intangible creative works such as code and text.

 What can be protected and how?

  • Most likely protections for these projects are copyright and trademarks, sometimes registered design but unlikely
  • Registered vs unregistered protection

Who owns IP?

  • Some universities clearly state that as a student you own any IP you create (with some provisos) – e.g. Imperial College. They may also set out expectations of publicising or exhibiting work you create while you are studying at the university (see UAL’s policy – similar in principle to your agreement with Jisc).
  • Some universities will state that they want to know about any work you are creating (see the RVC’s policy). This is usually in case it can be useful for their publicity, but check because…
  • Some may try to claim a stake in your IP. Such claims are often loosely defined and difficult to enforce (e.g. Oxford’s IP policy), and are generally targeted at the traditional outputs of research students. A potential claim on student IP from a university would commonly be based on use of university resources, but enforcing such a claim might not be beneficial for a university’s reputation in the current climate.
  • What happens when students are from different universities? – bear in mind this may become an issue when seeking further funding.
  • If employed – ownership may depend on the nature of the work, e.g. writing a novel at a position where you were hired to code may get you sacked(!) but the IP is yours, whereas creating something similar to what you are hired to do can potentially be claimed by the company.

Possible IP issues around using university data such as timetables –

  • Database rights
  • Possible solution is to take a co-operative approach with the University.

Domains & Trademarks


  • licensing agreement for software libraries
  • open source software – Software licensing – such as GPL – states that any derivative work must be released under same licence (GPL) or not at all. So beware of what code you are using and aggregating. Check individual licenses of libraries and frameworks. Some may be under a non-commercial licence for example.
  • media – if you are buying images, video, music etc.. check the terms under which you are purchasing; also when you use CC-licensed material (e.g. Flickrcc for CC-licensed images)

User-generated content

  • Default position is that users own what they contribute.
  • Risk of users uploading offensive or libelous content.
  • Use Terms & Conditions to get consent from users to use their content (see Youtube’s T&C’s for example)
  • Risk of users uploading content that is not their own – state in your T&Cs that those who are uploading have responsibility not to upload things they don’t own. Can also ask to check a box on uploading to confirm that the content is theirs.
  • If you moderate contributions first they become your responsibility, therefore the best strategy is usually to have a responsive takedown process.
  • New legislation will demand that – if you are providing a communication service that is available to the public – you have the technical infrastructure to provide an IP address and timestamp for contributions.

Data protection

  • Handling sensitive data & personal data e.g. emails, passwords etc.
  • Check data protection law and where data is held
  • Physical locations of servers & who can thus access it – e.g. Homeland Security Act for America

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