Who owns your work?

The ownership of student’s work is way more complicated than we guessed

Emily Brown, Senior Columnist

One of my classes had a very interesting discussion a few weeks ago. We talked about who has ownership over a university student’s work. This sounds like a confusing and complex topic and trust me, it is. A gut reaction might be that the students own the work. It’s their work… why in the world wouldn’t the student own their own work?

Well, like I said before, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Let’s say that a college student writes a paper for their English class and turns it in via Canvas. Their work can now be used in a few different ways. The first way is the professor can use it for their teaching portfolio which is seen by the English department. Now, the entire  English department has access to your paper. And then, your professor still has a copy and they can use it as an example for future classes. Then, 30 students can see your work. But, your work still belongs to you, right?

Well, kind of, but not really. The university now has multiple copies of your paper and they have the right to do whatever the hell they want with it. But, it can’t be that bad, right? Well, with the best case scenario, your essay gets buried in an old drive somewhere or under a pile of papers in a professor’s office. Hell, you may even get published if your piece is good enough. But, even that can backfire. If you get published, it might not be under your name. My mom used to work in corporate and one time, she wrote a report and turned it into her boss. He loved it! The only note he had was to take her name off and put his name on before submitting.

“I’m currently working on my Department Honors Project and it’s my life’s work. It would be heartbreaking if someone would publish it under their name.”

This happens all the time. People take credit for other people’s work. We all know that, but once we know the reality and the extent of the whole thing, it becomes a lot more complicated and messed up. My teacher even said that in the past, people have found their papers that they wrote on one of those websites where you can buy papers for classes, sometimes years after it was posted.

I don’t think I need to explain why all this is messed up. Students work hard on their work. Not only that, but a lot of us are doing work we are very passionate about. I’m currently working on my Department Honors Project and it’s my life’s work. It would be heartbreaking if someone would publish it under their name.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical solution for this. But there are some steps you can take. First of all, backups. Have backups of your backups. Keep everything! I know that essay for that Hamline Plan class seems unimportant. Hopefully, it is. But, just in case, you have copies. You will have proof that you wrote it.

Finally, when you graduate, email your Google Drive files to your personal email so you have copies with you in case you need them or something happens.