Saturday, 29 August 2015

Who Owns a Student's Copyright?

(EDIT: Please read PS at foot)

Make no mistake, I have enjoyed the first year of my four year Creative Writing degree course at Birkbeck. The tutors are excellent, the facilities are great – quirky in places but that's historic Bloomsbury for you, and to the creative mind quirky is like fresh air – and I have made a lot of great friends. But...

When I attempted to enrol on-line for my second year I was astounded to find the following* clause among the T&Cs. It may be that the clause was present last year, if so I enrolled then in ignorance, having take up my place in a hurry at the eleventh hour.

*  " 35.     If a student during their course of study produces original work that may be commercially exploitable, the College is entitled to the copyright and may seek to secure royalties or patents. Any revenue will be divided between the College and the inventor as set out in the College's Financial Regulations. The College waives its right to the ownership of copyright in books, articles and written work, other than where specifically commissioned or in which substantial revenue related to the author's link with the College is generated."

This clause effectively purloins my copyright and replaces it with a "waiver" of the College's purported "entitlement", followed by two ambiguously worded exceptions to that "waiver".

To be clear, I never have and never would submit my work to any publication or competition whose organisers prevaricated or equivocated over the long-established legal (and to my mind immutable) principle that copyright, and all other rights, belong to the author of a work unless/until he/she chooses to reassign them in a contract.

Why then should I as a student be forced by unavoidable T&C terms to sign up to a contract I would not dream of entering into outside the College environment?

Whilst possibly apposite and understandable in relation to other disciplines, clause 35 has no place in a creative writing context.

In short, unless the College is prepared to remove or drastically reword clause 35, nothing less than a categorical and unequivocal formal assurance that the clause does NOT apply to the BA CW course and my own creative work – under any circumstances – will persuade me to enrol.

I do hope an acceptable resolution will be forthcoming and soon. Otherwise what a sad end this will be to an important adventure in my life.

OK to go back into the water

I’m exceedingly pleased and relieved to be able to report having received the unqualified reassurance I sought regarding clause 35 in Birkbeck's T&Cs of enrolment, thus:

"…the copyright in all the original creative work you produce as part of your BA in Creative Writing belongs to you in its entirety now and forever more. The College has no claim on any creative work you produce during your degree, regardless of whether or not it is submitted for assessment."
Clause 35, it appears, is a generic clause intended mainly for grant-funded scientific research projects.

I respectfully reiterate, it would be a chuffing great idea to put this information IN or, better still, get clause 35 the chuff OUT of the BA Creative Writing T&Cs.

Whatever. I'm now looking forward once more to another term at Birkbeck School of Arts with respected tutors and great student buddies.



  1. I'm not sure this is a problem for a writer. They only want something from the story/book if you're going to substantially cash in on their name. If someone was making loads of dosh through an association with me, I'd want to get my hands on some of it.

    I can see why you don't like wording, especially waiving a right when you (correctly in my opinion) don't feel they're automatically entitled to it, but isn't the important thing how this affects you and your writing, not the tone of the small print?

  2. Thanks, Patsy, for taking the time to visit, read and comment. It is a problem for this writer. The College is claiming to own copyright to my creative output, which I cannot agree to. Even if I were prepared to ignore that fact, given that "substantial revenue" were created by, say, a screenplay or TV series (the course includes those): a) do these fall under the "written work" banner? and, b) how would one decide to what degree the "author's link with the college" was responsible for the revenue's generation? Also, when does the College's claim to my copyright begin and end? No, this is far more than a small print matter to me. Thanks again. O