Phoenix, AZ asked in Intellectual Property for Arizona

Q: Can my university legally claim ownership of my intellectual property?

I am a student at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. I have been told multiple times that as students, any videos that we create using our school's equipment do not belong to us students; they belong to the school and we have no rights to the content. Is this true, legally? Based on my knowledge of IP laws, who owns video equipment is irrelevant in regards to IP laws; the person who creates content is the person who owns the IP. But my university claims we cannot profit off of the material we create, and we cannot post it anywhere without giving credit to the university. They claim that all of this is because we shoot footage using the school's equipment, and that therefore we have no rights to anything we shoot and edit. (To make matters worse, we are NOT allowed to use our own equipment for Cronkite classes--this can result in failing a class or expulsion!)

Is this even legal? If so, how is it possible? This seems highly exploitative.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Peter D. Mlynek
Peter D. Mlynek

A: Yes, unfortunately, it likely can. You probably signed some sort of an agreement to that effect when you enrolled in the school.

A couple of points:

(1) Once you graduate and start working for a magazine or newspapers, your work will also belong to your employer.

(2) As far as exploitation goes, here is the idea why that is happening: The tuition for universities has been rising at a fast clip for the past 30-40 years. The overburdened parents are putting pressure on their representatives on both the Federal level and state level to do something about the high costs of schools. Although the governments really do not want to spend more money on schools, they do the next best thing: they pass laws that allow schools to profit off students

What most students generally worry about is not the ownership of the work, but the attribution for the work. Yes, the students’ work will be published in various papers, or in national magazines without their permission, but what you want to make sure is that they have your name attached to it. You want to make sure that you can put it on your CV, or your work portfolio, so that your future employers can see it.

But, if you have some sort of IP that you really want to own, and are willing to fight for it, then you need to see a lawyer about how to do this. If you are simply concerned about the university getting their hands on your future IP, then you should create it on your own time outside of the university setting, with your own equipment.

Good luck!

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