Copyrights

The University's faculty rules reference the Patents and Copyright Policy. Section 2 of that document is the University's official policy on copyrights. The Computer Science Department has refined those rules somewhat, and has its own standard copyright notice under which University-owned works are issued. This page is a brief discussion of copyright issues, and a description of Department-specific polices. Note that Department policies related to copyright are concerned only with software. For policies relating to other works, consult the university policy.

Ownership

The owner of a work decides under what copyright that work is made available to others. The first issue relating to copyright is always who owns the work?

According to the faculty rules referenced above,

It is the University's position that, as a general premise, ownership of copyrightable property which results from performance of one's University duties and activities will belong to the author or originator. This applies to books, art works, software, etc.
The exceptions to this general rule are (paraphrased):
  • The work was supported by an externally-funded grant which requires that the University own the work.
  • The University paid for the work, and there is a prior understanding that the University will own the work.
  • There is a prior written agreement that the University will own the work.
Note that the first exception is more of a rule within the Department of Computer Science. Nearly all funded work within the Department must be owned by the University.

Class & Degree Projects

As a general rule, works created by students to fulfill the requirements of a university course, or in pursuit of a degree, are owned by the student.

Software Brown Owns

Software produced in the Computer Science Department that is owned, in whole or in part, by Brown University, must be copyrighted under the CS Department Copyright Notice.

The CS Department Copyright permits recipients of software it protects to use, copy, modify and distribute those works freely without fee. This applies equally to individuals, other non-profits, and commercial enterprises. However, it prohibits incorporation into a commercial product. That means no one may sell Brown software either individually or as part of a larger product.

Note that the CS Department Copyright does not meet the criteria for open source as set forth by the Open Source Initiative. That's because the University doesn't like other people making money off their intellectual products.

Software You Own

Selecting a copyright is a personal decision. Copyright law gives authors the right to place a range of restrictions on the use and availability of their works. You need to ask yourself what your goal is in distributing your software. Do you simply want to benefit humankind? Do you want to make a name for yourself? Do you want to start a company to commercialize your software?

There are many choices. The US Copyright Office web site has a lot of information. If you are interested in creating an open source work, take a look at the Open Source Initiative's web site. The Free Software Foundation (the GNU people) maintains a philosophy section where you can learn more about the Copyleft and the ideas behind it.

If you're not giving your software away, and you don't know what sort of copyright you want to use, you can use the following simple copyright notice:

Copyright 1999, Your Name Here - All Rights Reserved.
This is the most restrictive copyright possible. If you decide to distribute your software, you should change this.

How To Copyright a Work

To properly copyright a work, you must put a copyright notice, in comments, at the top of every source file. It is not sufficient to merely reference, in a comment or using an include preprocessor directive (e.g. #include), a copyright notice that is stored elsewhere.

You do not need to register a copyright. Copyright is asserted simply by including a notice in a work. In fact, copyright protection is assumed even if a notice is absent.

Public Domain

Works in the public domain are not owned. The original author has relinquished or lost all rights to such works. Public domain is not the same as free or open source. Free and open source software is almost always copyrighted, to ensure that the works are used and distributed in the way the author intended.

Commercializing Software

Companies sometimes show an interest in commercializing software owned by Brown or Brown students, staff or faculty. If the right to commercialize the software is prohibited by copyright, as it is with the CS Department Copyright, then the company must get a waiver from the software's owner. In the case of Brown, such waivers are negotiated through the Brown Technology Partnerships (BTP). If Brown is not the owner of the software, BTP can still help. If you get such a request, please contact John Bazik.