School Board Seeks to Hold Copyrights of Student & Staff Work

Copyright with puzzle pieces by Horia Varlan on Flickr (CC license)

Image by Horia Varlan on Flickr (CC license)

A Maryland school board has presented a proposal that would turn over the copyrights of staff- and student-produced work to the school system.

As the Washington Post notes, this “could mean that a picture drawn by a first-grader, a lesson plan developed by a teacher or an app created by a teen would belong to the school system, not the individual.”

Not surprisingly, this idea by the Prince George’s County Board of Education is not sitting well with everyone, especially those who believe granting the school system the intellectual property rights could discourage creativity and ingenuity among educators. Moreover, whether the school could legally claim copyrights of work created by the students is also questionable.

The proposed system calls to mind a kind of work-for-hire arrangement; in such situations, work created for an employer becomes the intellectual property of the employer. However, what sets apart this idea, aside from the fact that students aren’t employees, is that work created by teachers and other staff on their own time using their own resources would also belong to the school system.

Regarding students, intellectual property Professor David Rein of the University of Missouri, told theWashington Post that he “can’t imagine” a student losing rights to his or her own work in the way described by the current proposal.

“The way this policy is written, it essentially says if a student writes a paper, goes home and polishes it up and expands it, the school district can knock on the door and say, ‘We want a piece of that.’”

This move to claim copyright seems to be financially motivated, according to Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center; that is, the market for online lesson plans is growing. Accordingly, if approved, this system would allow the school system to benefit from any of its teachers’ lesson plans that becomes a bestseller.


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