Do you own your own work?

Wilfrid Laurier University’s office of research services hopes to enlighten students and faculty alike on matters of intellectual property ownership and copyright. This area of academia is not always well understood and can often cause tension between students and faculty.

In a bid to bring attention to the subject of copyright regulations, copyright officer Sarah O’Byrne was invited to make a presentation on Nov. 16 in the Paul Martin Centre.

During her presentation, entitled “Copyright and You: Research Ownership Rights in Working with Students,” O’Byrne, a copyright advisor at McMaster University, addressed the issues surrounding copyrights on student work, particularly those that involve faculty collaboration. While this issue is not as apparent with undergraduate students’ work, it frequently occurs in post-graduate studies.

O’Byrne explained that the contentious aspect of copyright comes when there is collaborative work involved. In the field of academia, particularly in graduate studies, this is an ongoing dilemma.

In a case where a student has collaborated more extensively with a professor in order to express an idea, likely for commercial purposes, collaboration rules come into play. In accordance with the Canadian Copyright Act, if all collaborators agree to share recognition for the expression of an idea, then joint ownership dictates that the shares of the joint author will be equal, unless there is some kind of agreement stating otherwise.

In basic terms, this means that if two individuals publish an article or finding from a study, then they are presumed to have contributed equally. This relates to the case of students who are working with a faculty member to conduct research.

“Students have no right to intellectual property if they are employed by the university or a contracting agency,” explained O’Byrne.

However, if a student has simply asked for assistance from a faculty member while trying to express an idea for academic purposes, then O’Byrne stated,
“The student has ownership for the expression of the idea.” Unless a student is under a contract of service, which states that any discovery or idea formulated while being employed by the university is property of the university, they have the property rights to the expression of the idea.

The most important way for students to ensure that they have total control over their own intellectual property, according to O’Byrne, “is to always establish an agreement in writing between student and faculty member.”

Laurier’s Associate Vice-President of Research Paul Maxim concurred with O’Byrne’s recommendation. “People ought to discuss how to share credit,” he said.

Maxim assured that the office of research services was there to help with copyright disclosure on behalf of both students and faculty. Although there have been few documented incidents surrounding copyright claims, Maxim is hopeful that further education about this topic will “clarify misunderstanding about ownership.”

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