If I turn in a test with my work on it, is that work under copyright by me or the teacher? If the teacher does not want to give me the test contents, can I ask for my answers to the questions as intellectual property?

Also, my goal is to be able to see my answers on a test after I have taken it.

While Googling I could only find blogs/posts on avoiding copyright infringement, I had a hard time finding other resources.

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    This question strongly depends on individual circumstances because intellectual property rights depend on the university's intellectual property policy. Probably the university wrote a policy that benefits itself. I'm pretty sure we've had similar questions before. Dec 10, 2021 at 16:56
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    Holding the copyright in a document gives you the right to stop other people copying or distributing that document, but as far as I know it doesn't give you the right to demand the return of a copy that you've handed over to someone else. Dec 10, 2021 at 22:29
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    Does your university forbid you from viewing your grades assessments? That seems pretty unusual.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 11, 2021 at 0:24
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    @DanRomik Forbidding from viewing is unusual, but not wanting to give the exam back is more common, most often because the test questions don't vary too much from term to term.
    – Teepeemm
    Dec 11, 2021 at 2:28
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    In my university students have the right to see the exam and its evaluation, and to be taught the correct answer; they don't have the right to be given a copy of the exam if the instructor doesn't want to. In Spain at least this is stated in the student's rights law, so must be at least so in any University in the country, public or private.
    – Rmano
    Dec 11, 2021 at 12:19

6 Answers 6


I think this question should be interpreted according to the goal you have:

my goal is to be able to see my answer on an assessment after I have taken it.

You could ask a lawyer about your precise rights under copyright law, this Q&A site is not a place to ask for legal advice and any answer is going to depend on your jurisdiction and the relevant law/case law for that jurisdiction.

However, regarding your goal, I think the approach trying to compel your instructors under some legalesque framework to return your assignment so that you can see your answers is a bad way to proceed.

Your instructor likely has a reason they do not want to return the completed work to you; I'm guessing the reason is to protect future exams/assessments by making it more difficult to share past years' responses with a future class. Alternatively it could be that they don't have the time to provide this to everyone and see it as unfair to provide the service just for you.

Maybe they have a good reason, maybe not, but you're best off explaining to your instructor the reasons you would like to see the assignment. You'll probably make more progress if you have pedagogical reasons ("I'd like to understand what I did right/what I did wrong") rather than grade-grubbing reasons ("I'd like to argue for points back").

Consider that a reasonable response by an instructor to a student who argued that their assignments must be returned to them for some legal reason might be to simply not have that student anymore. (my understanding of copyright law is that there is no basis for such a request, but I'm also arguing that there's no good reason for you to pursue that argument even if there was)

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    Re your last paragraph: instructors can turn away students, where you work? That seems unusual to me. Dec 11, 2021 at 9:03
  • @FedericoPoloni More of a thought experiment.
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 11, 2021 at 15:21
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    In my many years as a student, I've had many good teachers and a few bad teachers. Unsuprisingly, the subset of teachers that didn't want us to see our tests after taking them was a subset of the bad teachers. Those teachers were completely impervious to the argument "I'd like to understand what I did right/what I did wrong". My conclusion was that they did not believe a student could possibly improve.
    – Stef
    Dec 13, 2021 at 13:54

To the extent that there is creative work, such as a nontrivial mathematical proof or computer program, you most likely hold the copyright. The only exception would be if you explicitly relinquished that copyright. That does not, however, mean that an instructor is required to return their copy of the work to you. If you didn't make a copy before turning it in, or if you turned it in under the condition (known to you) that you would not be permitted to copy or publish it, you will have no recourse.

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    I think the last part is the actual key here. Irrespective of the question if answers to an assignment are copyrightable, there seems to be a misunderstanding about the concept of copyright. Copyright gives you the ability to allow or prevent the making of new copies of your work (work here means the abstract thing, not the physical object i.e. the paper it is written on). It does not give you any control over existing (legally obtained) copies. And handing in an exam to be graded sounds to me like a classic example of an implicit contract, transferring the ownership of that copy.
    – mlk
    Dec 10, 2021 at 16:36
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    "you explicitly relinquished that copyright." This could be a condition of enrollment at the university. Dec 10, 2021 at 16:57
  • @mlk Ok, so I turned it in, can I take steps in the future that will make an assignment like an exam paper my property but I am letting my teacher borrow it? My goal is to be able to see my answer on an assessment after I have taken it. edit i dont have to be able to see the questions, since they are the teacher's property (i think)
    – Evergreen
    Dec 10, 2021 at 22:19
  • @Evergreen That might be a matter for a separate question, or maybe even a separate site (Law perhaps). As mlk said, though, copyright law will not help you here.
    – David Z
    Dec 11, 2021 at 11:11
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    @Evergreen You would need to get the teacher to agree to your terms and I don't know any sane teacher who would do that. As someone who has given his share of exams, I would tell you immediately to either hand it in completely, no strings attached, or to not hand it in at all and fail the exam. If you want to remember your answers afterwards, either use the official way offered by the university (if there is any), or do what generations of students did before you and take some notes on a separate sheet during (if allowed) or immediately after the exam.
    – mlk
    Dec 11, 2021 at 11:26

Where I work, the issue you raise is not a matter of copyright but of university policy: students are given the right to collect marked assignments and midterms, and keep said work, precisely for the reasons you give and so they can assess their academic progress through the class. Thus I would start by searching for such a policy at your school. (Note that students can ask to see their marked copy of final exam but not keep it.)

IANAL but it seems highly unlikely that submitting an assignment paper transfers the copyright to the instructor, although the instructor holds the copyright to the actual assignment questions.


Copyright can only be applied to "creative works". Its purpose is to protect the financial interest of the creator in such works for a period of time.

It is doubtful, but not impossible, that a court would consider student assignments and exams as "creative" in any sense. Most such things deal with "common knowledge" even though not yet known to students, perhaps.

But an assignment to "write a poem on subject X" would end up with a creative work, though, perhaps, of questionable quality. Likewise some "open ended questions" might qualify, even in something like CS.

But an instructor would have no rights to any creative work produced solely by a student. If it is subject to copyright at all, the rights are held by the creator.

See: https://copyright.uslegal.com

The separate question, unrelated to copyright, is whether you have a right to feedback on what you write in a test. My opinion is that you do, indeed, and any sensible system will have a way to provide that. It doesn't mean, however, that you have a right to carry away a copy of what you turned in, but you should at least have an opportunity to speak with a professor on the quality of what you write there.

And if you think something you write for an exam is worthy of publication, there is no reason that you can't take those ideas and produce something based on it. For that, you will have copyright.

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    Even if it's covering common knowledge within a field, the particular expression of those ideas (e.g. in an essay or report) should be protected by copyright.
    – nick012000
    Dec 12, 2021 at 1:05

In my country (Sweden), the test is part of a government decision (a grade), and is therefore technically a document which must be publicly available upon request.
That is, anyone can ask for (a copy of) this document (other students, other teachers, etc). All finals are scanned and stored, but the duration required to keep it is 2 years, I think.

Note, though, this does not mean you lose copyright of your work; just that it must be available.


Your question must be interpreted with right to information law but not intellectual property rights etc. I have been in research work to place such a petition before the Concerned court as in Pakistan ( I'm from Pakistan) rule of law is a big challenge and I want to help my countrymen in this regard and had been in research works since 2-3 months. I found some rulings of Indian supreme court which had allowed the candidates to inspect as well as get certified copies of their answer papers. (Aditya case). It's all about the right to information. The only defence point from the opposite is it's the fiduciary rights thus cannot yeild the copies or allow the inspection of answer papers to the candidates this view is not covered by the right to information act. Advocate High Court Malak Usman Rumi Tareen Pakistan.

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