Student challenges Essex over Net rights

September 15, 1995

An Essex student's human rights database on the Internet has been disrupted during a six-month dispute with his university over control of the information. The university's registrar admits that a lack of clear regulations on Intellectual Property Rights concerning Internet work contributed to the disagreement.

Philosophy finalist Martin Hogan spent 14 months building an extensive archive based on human rights news from around the world. It was not done as part of his course but he was given use of facilities at Essex's Human Rights Centre.

In March a meeting turned down Mr Hogan's request to the centre for financial support and he opted to move the files to another Internet site not linked to Essex. The university seized the database by removing Mr Hogan's log-on, denying him access. Much of the archive has not been updated since then while solicitors have been settling the dispute.

"People involved with human rights have to read newspapers all over the world to find information - I had it on archive for them. I get 30 files a day so I will have to pay people to get rid of the backlog," Mr Hogan said. He says a university member told him it acted because there were fears he might delete the files over his financial dispute.

Essex pro vice chancellor Martin Atkinson confirmed the database was taken over but blamed the involvement of solicitors for the length of the dispute.

"This database operated as a co-operative exercise for a long time," said Mr Atkinson. "There were then difficulties which led Martin Hogan to become dissatisfied. I asked him to speak to me and at that point he chose to be legally represented. I think we could have resolved it easily if he had come in on his own."

Registrar Fraser Woodburn said Essex had now agreed IPR regulations and a code of practice giving the institution rights over work it commissions but not where a student does their own work while at university. "In this case I don't know where the ownership rights lie and I really don't want to fight a legal battle to find out because it would be very expensive," said Mr Woodburn. "There was no regulation at that stage and if we were doing it now we would want to agree at the outset what the rules were and who had the ownership rights."

Mr Hogan said: "I thought of the idea for the database and I designed the file structure, therefore I owned that part of the copyright. The information itself is in the public domain and no one can own that."

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