R-beta: Re: S Compatibility

gordon.harrington@uni.edu gordon.harrington at uni.edu
Fri May 2 08:29:10 CEST 1997

Ross Ihaka writes:
> Peter Dalgaard writes:
>  > What he probably would tell you is that the FSF has a substantial "red
>  > tape" procedure for code contributions to ensure that nobody can claim
>  > to own parts of the code and thereby block the use of the entire
>  > product. You can't put code under GPL if you don't own it, and there
>  > are situations where the employer/university legally owns code that
>  > people write, even if it's during off-duty periods. (Not so in
>  > Denmark. University employees here even own what they do in their work
>  > time. Few people get rich from it, though.)
> This touches a rather sore point with me.  The University here has
> brought in a new contract which has some diabolical aspects to it.

This has been happening in the US too!
> Basically they require that you inform them if you develop a piece of
> software of "commercial significance".  They will then decide if it is
> to be commercialized and whether you will receive any of the benefits
> which result. [ This condition is not applied to to works involving
> the written word, works of art or music. A sweetheart deal for the old
> order?]

As a member of the "old order" I was involved in litigation with my university
25 years ago over the loss of a computer I had designed and built 35 years ago
using gifts and grants. The university contended it had a right to dispose of
the computer as it saw fit. The court agreed that the computer belonged to the
university but found its design and all test results belonged to me. I received
an award equal to my salary for the time I had spent designing, fabricating,
programming, and testing the machine. In the course of preparing the case we
came across a California decision that university faculty, not the university,
have common law copyright on all their intellectual products within their
specialty. I don't have the citation at hand but the court ruling is likely to
be relevant even in New Zealand. The court cited an unbroken line of precedents
from medieval universities to the present. In a similar vein, U.S. law makes
the Principal Investigator a named principal and signatory on grants rather
than an employee/agent of the university. The use of explicit contract
provisions to get faculty to sign away their common law rights seems to have
been spurred by technological developments and the perception of administrators
that there is money to be made. 

 >I regard this as a threat to the free status of R (and academic
> freedom in general) and so I have refused to sign.  Fortunately the
> law of the land here says that my old contract stays valid until I
> agree to a new contract.  I hand wrote my "old" contract and it says
> that they have no claim on anything I do.  I got to do this after a
> senior administrator didn't get round to responding to my enquiries
> about the University's intellectual property policy and my salary was
> stopped.  The mid-level administrators were so embarrased that this
> had happened that they let me scribble some extra clauses on the
> contract.

If I felt a tight job market, the need to eat, and an intransigent university
neccessitated my contracting away my rights I would propose rephrasing the
contract to provide that the specified intellectual products would be donated
to the university. Then at least the copy rights principle would be asserted
and one could deduct each year's charitable donations from one's taxes at fair
market value. 



Gordon M. Harrington		Mail:	3720 Village Place, #6308
Professor Emeritus			Waterloo, IA 50702-5848
University of Northern Iowa 	Phone:	319-291-8535, 319-266-8927
gordon.harrington at uni.edu	Fax:	319-291-8324

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