I’m completing my studies at the Polytechnic of Zagreb this semester, and my final project will be a compositing window manager (as a follow up to my text on the same subject written for the ‘Report’ class).
In discussion with my mentor, I wanted to double check the well-known fact that the university will be the owner of the resulting work. Yes, the university will claim ownership of the resulting work.
The follow up question was whether the resulting project could be GPLed. In that way, I would be able to continue working on the project later on. The answer is — no, I can’t GPL it. I might be able to wrestle with the bureaucracy and get a special exemption, but I’ve decided not to.
To the best of my knowledge, same policies exist at the Faculty of Computing and Electrical Engineering at the University of Zagreb — widely considered one of the best university-level schools in Croatia, if not the best.
I’m highly disappointed by the Croatian universities’ policy of appropriating work I am forced to do for purposes of acquiring a degree.
I have nothing against appropriating the accompanying paper, which is something that will not evolve further once written. I am highly frustrated by the application of same standards on potentially useful, potentially fast changing program code.
As a result, and as a form of protest, the software part of my project will be experimental, proof-of-concept research-quality code, and I will not try too hard to make it maintainable long term. The paper and the project will not be intentionally worse, but they will also not be intentionally better than they could be. This is because I want a clear road without obstacles whenever I decide to create a well-structured compositing window manager; I don’t want any obstacles to being able to modify my own code.
I am certain that numerous student developers in countries with similar practices do the same. This results in enormous waste of time that would, in the academic spirit of information sharing, better serve contributing to free software ecosystem. Instead, who knows how much code is either useless in the real world, or — worse — is actually useful in the real world, but claimed by the universities as their product?
I would suggest the responsible individuals in Croatia to review the history of Google, including the part where
BackRub and PageRank Googol Google was a government-funded research project by two PhD students, yet they managed to take it out of the university and start a big company around it.
I would also suggest a review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged which, while flawed and too narrow-focused, does offer some food for thought on government appropriations of works. And in cases of academic software projects that would be GPLed anyway, the situation is even worse: we’re seeing an appropriation of a work that I would gladly share with the world and previously intended to do so.