H/t to the newly-relaunched Save Our LC forum for calling attention to Louisiana College’s recently published Intellectual Property Policy, which is now prominently posted near the very top of its page on Academics. (The policy is mentioned in the fifth sentence).
The commenter on Save Our LC suggests that the policy is a direct reaction to the recent “leaks” of information that have beleaguered and frustrated the college’s current administration. I have no way of knowing or confirming this, and to be sure, most colleges and universities have well-defined intellectual property policies. That said, it is unusual for a college or university to mention this policy at the top of their Academics webpage, and by doing so, LC is purposely drawing attention to the policy.
Read the policy here (pdf).
I’m interested to hear from others, but to me, Louisiana College’s policy seems overly broad, poorly defined, and hastily assembled. At one point in the three page policy, the word “personal” appears, even though it’s obvious the author intended to use the word “personnel.” It’s a minor error, but it suggests the policy had not been thoroughly scrutinized and edited before it was published and prominently displayed. (It happens; I know).
The vast majority of colleges and universities adopt intellectual property policies to protect their interests in the event that a sponsored invention can be patented and potentially monetized. Notably, LC is not a research university; it’s a small, Baptist, “liberal arts” college in a small town in Louisiana, which makes its desire to publicize such a policy seem somewhat strange.
Because it is so vague, Louisiana College seems to go well beyond the scope of the standard intellectual property policy. Rather than fostering the free and open exchange of ideas or championing the public dissemination of research, LC suggests that practically anything that could become copyrighted or patented produced or created by faculty, staff members, and students with the “significant use” of LC’s resources, even an idea or a work of art, should be considered LC’s property. By the way, it’s left at the discretion of LC’s President to determine what, exactly, constitutes “significant use;” the policy defines “significant use” as “greater than normal,” and it doesn’t define the term “incidental use.”
The policy also states that if you’re a professor at LC, then all of your work will be considered “work for hire,” unless you can somehow negotiate an agreement that states otherwise.
These provisions are not normal. It’s highly unusual for any college or university to even attempt to assert ownership of someone else’s artwork, for example, particularly a student’s artwork. LC’s treatment of (even potentially) “copyrightable” material is also suspect. They’re not simply referring to copyrightable technology or software; “copyrightable,” by the way, is a matter of opinion. A copyright does not protect an “idea;” it assigns certain rights and privileges to protect one’s ability to “express” that idea.
Louisiana College’s policy defines “intellectual property” in the most expansive way possible; it provides complete discretion and oversight of the policy to a single individual; it fails to properly define “significant use,” allowing the LC President to make such determinations (oversight is notably weak and unspecific); and, in so doing, it provides LC’s President with the ability to claim, if he so chooses, that almost anything produced by LC faculty, staff, and students could be (and in the case of faculty members, should be) considered subject to LC ownership and control.
Someone else already said this isn’t an “intellectual property” policy; it’s an “anti-intellectual property” policy. It’s a good play on words, but we shouldn’t miss the point: It’s perfectly appropriate and understandable for Louisiana College to adopt a policy on intellectual property, and as a private college, they can adopt almost any policy they want. At least they’re being upfront, though maybe a little too upfront.
The real problem is: Their policy conflicts with their mission of “academic excellence.” This has very little to do with LC’s desire to protect its own interests in patented or patentable inventions; it seems primarily concerned with staking out ownership of content. It’s an awfully bad and embarrassing default position, at least in my opinion.
I’ll spare any critics the time and energy: I am, in no way, asserting LC’s policy is illegal; I just don’t think it’s right.