February 13, 2013

Maryland wants to copyright students’ homework


There is little in this world worth copyrighting less than my fifth grade homework. Stories about princesses and mangled long division could only be precious to a parent. This is why it’s strange to conceive of why Maryland’s Prince George’s County Board of Education released a proposal suggesting that they own the work produced by students in their schools.

“Works created by employees and/or students specifically for use by the Prince George’s County Public Schools or a specific school or department within PGCPS, are properties of the Board of Education even if created on the employee’s or student’s time and with the use of their materials. Further, works created during school/work hours, with the use of school system materials, and within the scope of an employee’s position or student’s classroom work assignment(s) are the properties of the Board of Education.”

An attempt to declare ownership over their teachers’ work is slightly more understandable. As Liat Clake writes at Wired.co.uk, secondhand teacher plans are “big business.” Creative works produced during employment are often considered to be the property of the business and not the employee, and the Board’s re-statement of this fact might be a preemptive declaration, in anticipation of monetizing lesson plans.

The Board’s inclusion of students in the claim of ownership, however, raises all kinds of legal troubles. Clark quotes Jane Ginsburg, professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law at Columbia Law School, who says,

“For work whose copyright initially vests in its creator, there’s no transfer of copyright without a written agreement signed by the author and I don’t know that school children have the legal capacity to enter into enforceable contracts.”

Non-profit Fight for the Future has launched an online petition, Don’t Copyright Me, aimed at fighting the proposal. As they note, “with this policy, a high school student could get a takedown notice from their own school for posting a video they made for class on YouTube.”

Surely the Board doesn’t have as Machiavellian intentions as all that, but the language they used in their proposal is a perfect example of overreach in copyright policy.

If you’ve used language so loose and wide-raging that a kid’s stick figure drawing or a teacher’s personal poetry could become the property of the school, perhaps you’ve gone too far.



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.