Immoral and unenforceable 1

March 25, 2010

All (intellectual) property is thievable. The case Times Higher Education reported last week emphasises failure at a number of levels ("What's yours is ours ... but not all agree", 18 March). When considering the case of the alleged plagiarism of a student's work, the Health Professions Council (HPC) failed to consider that copyright is a moral as well as a legal concept in its determination to defend a member against the laity.

It did not ask whether there was any basis upon which Leeds Metropolitan University could lay claim to a student's intellectual property, oblige it to be handed over, and whether such annexation had any moral force. Universities with such regulations are analogous to Microsoft placing the same conditions on its consumers - and would likely face the same dismissal if it ever came to court.

The weak basis on which higher education institutions sometimes claim copyright on the work of their staff belongs to the terms of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, in which work undertaken by employees during the course of their employment is rightfully owned by employers. There is no way that this could be extended to students, and students' unions are failing their members if they do not protect them against such annexations.

The relevant unions, and even bodies such as the HPC, should be alert to universities inserting morally doubtful and anti-academic clauses into their "regulations": it is a product of the commercial managerialism that has taken the place of a proper concern for scholarship over the past 15 years.

Andrew Morgan, Vice-president, University and College Union, Swansea University.

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