Licensing and Ownership around University Projects

This information is specific to De Montfort University, and may not apply to others. It’s quite likely though.

This is something I was curious about at the start of my project, and have only now really looked into it because my project will have to be released under a certain type of license.

In order to get track meta data, I was hoping to use a third part library. The only one I’ve come across for PHP is getID3(). The issue is that it’s under a GPL license. That means that if the library is integral to Sound Tiger then the rest of the source needs to be GPL too.

It is integral: without this library I won’t be able to display meta data (album title, track name, artist) for tracks which makes the software essentially unusable. Rewriting this library wasn’t something I was planning on doing, though may do so in the future, just not for at least six months.

I’ve no issue with making my project GPL compatible. However, I wasn’t sure if I had the authority to make it so.

The contract relating to intellectual property rights concerning student software as part of their course says that the university is the sole owner. This means that I don’t have the right to apply GPL.

I emailed a few people and ultimately ended up in an impromptu meeting with a gent from ProspectIP, who give advice to students about IP matters. I learnt that that clause I mentioned about isn’t always enforced – in fact it’s often considered that the software (or anything a student produces) remains with them, but the university still gets first dibs on if they want to take a stake, and reserve the right to.

The university will only really step in to help secure the IP, and at most take a 50-50 profit share. Though that’s only likely in cases where a large amount of money is about to be made. Something like Sound Tiger, which I don’t expect to make a living off if I ever do sell it, won’t be of much interest to them. There’s not much academic value in my project to interest them either, likely.

So it’s looking like this is less of an issue. I shall bring this up in my next meeting with my supervisor, and seek permission to use GPL’d code in my software.

With the future in mind though, I will be keeping a separate non-GPL version for potential commercial sale.

What I understand the GNU GPL license to mean

I’ll be honest; I did try to read the entire GPL license, but I just couldn’t. I may be studying law but I’m no lawyer. I did, though, read the FAQ from the GPL website. That’s fairly simple, but it is bloody long, and most of it doesn’t apply to me at the moment since I don’t release or hack anything that ships as a binary, so I thought I’d run through what I think you’re allowed to do with software under this license.

Continue reading What I understand the GNU GPL license to mean