As a graduate student in a CS program, "Who Owns the (rights to the) Code I Write"?

I know that the answer is different depending upon:

(Case-1) I work for the University or am supported in some way (such as a TA, RA, and whether I receive financial assistance such as tuition).

(Case-2) Or I work for an employer who is paying my tuition (and thus may have some claim over the code I write while working on courses).

(Case-3) My specific case - I am paying for my tuition, so there is no party providing funds. Thus it would seem that I retain ownership in the code I write on my own time. Does it matter whether the code is written to solve a problem or assignment?

I have read my University Intellectual Property statement, (which is written in legal terminology), but seems to suggest that I would relinquish (at least some) rights in the first case. This would indicate that I would retain rights in my case (or the employer policies in Case-2).

There are similar questions (below), but they seem to answer different questions, related to (Case-1) and relationship between student, professor, and funding parties.

  • 2
    I think you need to provide the intellectual property statement of your university. Assuming there are no laws overruling that statement and you have agreed to it, that statement is the key to answering your question.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 5:42
  • This will be a legal question as much as an academic one, as it will depend on the laws of wherever you are. In the UK, as you have student rather than employee status, I would expect you to own your own work unless you have agreed to something else (which some universities ask students to do). Given that you have already read your IP agreement... I'm not really sure what you're asking here. Can you clarify?
    – Flyto
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


As indicated, this is a legal question and not an academic one, however I do get asked this frequently by students.

Intellectual property questions are never simple. When you do work at a university, the idea that created the work may have come from a member of the academic staff. Ideas and techniques that are incorporated in the work come from classes created by other academic staff. Some of their ideas come from their education and books and papers they used. The university (their current employer) and perhaps some past employers may have contributed to that knowledge.

Then the student creates some artefact from that. Does the student wholly own everything intellectual in that artefact? Probably not, unless there is an agreement that says they do.

Without any agreement it would be for the courts to decide who owns what fraction of the intellectual property. Normally no one bothers, but when it is a valuable idea or artefact then the lawyers will follow.

There can be no simple answer to this question.

  • 1
    And here we have a good explanation on why many researchers don't publish their code, even if it might be helpful to other researchers...
    – Dirk
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 9:30

I don't think we will be able to answer you because, generally speaking, any law-related question depends on different laws and contracts which are usually dependent on your country/state, your school/employer/institution, and the contracts you may or may not have agreed to.

As an example in France the answer will be different depending on the contract you have with your school, if you worked alone or as a group, if it was during an internship and if your employer is a public or private company, which IP category the works belongs to (A : patent-able, B : original creation, C : cannot be protected by IP laws), if all the contracts you have passed are lawful, etc.

But as a student you should be able to find information by asking to the administration of your university or by checking its rules and regulations and if they are lawful.

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