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Re: (OT) Professional Employees: who owns your thoughts?

by Anonymous Monk
on Aug 13, 2002 at 18:41 UTC ( #189914=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to (OT) Professional Employees: who owns your thoughts?

Posted as Anonymous Monk rather that my real account, please forgive me.

Engineering students, be advised that the exploitation can begin far before you graduate. In my final year, I developed some software as a senior project. Before commencing, I made sure that the school's policy was that all works are owned by the student. In addition, every line of that code was written on my own computer, with no university resources involved. Furthermore, a significant part of the code was written months before the course even started as a hobby project, and recycled for the course. You can, perhaps, predict the next part of this story.

The prof decided that my software belonged to HIM (not the university, HIM). Not only that, but even the code that I made on my own free time, using my computer. A meeting with the Dean (with him present as well!) confirmed that, yes indeed, I owned the software, and could do with it what I wished.

Afterwards, my prof took my aside and explained that, what the Dean said notwithstanding, unless I gave him the software, he would fail me, and I would not graduate. Sure, it could be appealed- but my transcript would still show that when it was mailed out in May.

Well, what could I do? It's not like this was ground-breaking software that would make the owner millions. It was, in fact, rather useless outside of its niche application. So, I caved. But I also graduated.

Be forewarned, monks, there are lazy people out there who have realized it's much easier to steal than to create, and these people are attracted likes moths to a flame to anything they think they can snatch.

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Re: Re: (OT) Professional Employees: who owns your thoughts?
by Anonymous Monk on Aug 14, 2002 at 03:39 UTC
    This is a great story. I would advise anyone in this situation to hide a small tape recorder, and try to get the prof to speak to it. He should be in jail for extortion. But it might be even better to find out who he selling the code to, and politely ask them if they are linked to his illegal activities. Once they find out what he is up to, they would probably drop him like a hot potato, he wouldn't even learn why, and you wouldn't have to fool with the legal system.

    Many professors sell the work of their students without informing their university of the arrangements. It's not nice, but it is to be expected given the power relationship between professors and students.

    The most important program ever written (which is still widely used as the basis for all computer design) was actually assigned as a series of homework assignments. Many people made a lot of money. The better professors will share the wealth by providing referrals to high-paying jobs.

    It sounds like your professor was stuck in a small market, causing him to need to strongarm the code instead of sharing the wealth. This makes it much easier to figure out who he is selling the code to.

    You're not paranoid if they are really out to get you!

      Actually - there's nothing you can do to change your grade. If you had NOT 'caved in' and relinquished your code he/she could have failed you & there's nothing at all you might have been able to do.

      There are paralells of a less despicible nature. For example, there are a number of professors who will announce, quite casually, that they don't give out A's. Ever. Period. That in itself has severe ramifications for persons relying upon a scholarship for their tuition. That has serious implications towards that now utterly inattainable 4.0 grade point average you may have been working your convenient appendage off for. And you know what you can do about it? The same thing. Nothing.

      It is completely within the domain of the professor to grade their own students... at least in this country. And since professors (and teachers even less) don't make a lot of money, most of them supplement their income with either careers as writers of books, or in your case apparently software.

      (...ahem...In My Personal Opinion:) It is a well established fact that (at least here in New York) teachers in general have the worst record for software-related abuses. I can remember personally growing up in a computer store as a family business, and in the computer labs at elementary through high school teachers and faculty would constantly hit me up for pirated copies of software because they knew who I was related to. (Back in the days of PFS:Write & such...) The ethical abuses of an authority figure in a public school extorting software from a student, IMHO exceeds even sexual harassment in the workplace - but there's no real protection under the law designed for the likes of geeks. Such abuses are common because they are easy to get away with. Any legislation adopted in the future should be phrased to protect students - though it should probably be marketed more as protecting children if it were ever to get enough public outcry...

      But I think this is the same sort of thing. In your case it was simply more direct. This was also a movie plot for the film Real Genius with Val Kilmer, and even in that film he had to get someone from Congress involved to stop the exploitation of his work.

      And naturally I think the most ironic part of all of it is that you have to pay them a lot of money for the privilege of being used for cheap skilled labor in this manner.

      Ultimately - the answer lies in direct secrecy. As with the original Texas case sited previously in the thread, the mistake was in exposing your work to others prematurely. History is replete with examples of usurpers of the credit for inventions. One doesn't have to look far - take the case of Thomas Edison (gasp!) and how he worked over Tesla in the same manner. No one would be having this lovely chat on this or any other thread without that deal...

      Wait! This isn't a Parachute, this is a Backpack!
Re: Re: (OT) Professional Employees: who owns your thoughts?
by Anonymous Monk on Aug 14, 2002 at 15:34 UTC
    I've never had more than a joke I've told friends passed off as someone else's work. (That is, I told the joke, they passed it around as their own.) I don't feel too strongly about humor being passed around.

    I feel much more strongly about non-humor intellectual property.

    I personally would have gone back to the Dean, first. Explained the situation. If the Dean believed you once, they'd probably believe you a second time.

    After that, I suspect I may have figured some elaborate revenge. As you said, it wasn't super-useful. Probably nothing more than setting the professor's car on fire would satisfy my need for revenge in the matter.

    Had it been more valuable, I probably would have attempted to kill the professor.

    You can steal my money and my car and my house and my lovers and food and coffee; but when you start stealing my thoughts, you've gone just one step too far.

Re: Re: (OT) Professional Employees: who owns your thoughts?
by the_Don (Scribe) on Aug 15, 2002 at 18:14 UTC
    I am of the opinion that it is never too late to make a point or to (for lack of a better term) seek revenge for previous actions. Tell us, tell the media, tell the dean now what happened and maybe be will be punished.

    (Not on the topic of intellectual property, but to show how actions after the fact can effect the outcome) In my last year of college one of my professors could barely speak english. I maintained a 100% till the final and received a final grade of 87%. Practically mathematically impossible. After his grades were turned in, I spoke to the department head and complained about the lack of communication and grading. The department head had the grade changed and (I assume) spoke to the professor. I am sorry that I do not know if the professor was relieved because I do not go back to the campus, but I think this shows (through an anecdote) that it is never too late to make things right.

    ...making offers others can't rufuse.

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