Schools: The Next Frontier for Battles Over Copyright?
February 4, 2013 | 2:00 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Techdirt is one of many who have picked up this story about a copyright battle that’s brewing in a Maryland school district over who owns work done by teachers—and students—during school time.
The Prince George district is trying to pass a policy that would give it ownership over all materials that teachers create for use in the classroom—and over all work that students produce as a consequence. There are a number of things which are wrong with this theory. Firstly, as this write-up in The Washington Post points out:
“It’s not unusual for a company to hold the rights to an employee’s work, copyright policy experts said. But the Prince George’s policy goes a step further by saying that work created for the school by employees during their own time and using their own materials is the school system’s property.”
I think that the nature of the job one is hired for is also a relevant issue. In my days as a freelance copywriter, it was of course understood that any writing I produced was work-for-hire. But my contract as a teacher is solely for that—to be a teacher. My principal is free to set some parameters on that, and she has done so—she takes a cut of the for-profit enrichment program I run after school, and any teacher who wants to tutor or babysit on the side has to run it by her first. But we are neither contracted nor are we paid for curriculum development, so there would be no grounds for her to claim any ownership of such projects if her staff were so inclined. She pays for us to purchase resources to use in the classroom. None of us need to make our own in order to do our jobs. So if I want to mess around on my own time and put together a little booklet or two, why would she have a stake in that?
And including the work of students in this policy is downright bizarre. Here in Canada, the government puts out a resource package every year to help teachers teach about veterans and Remembrance Day, and one year, one of the activities involved designing a bookmark for a contest. If one of our students had participated in this lesson as part of their educational program at school, and won the contest, should the school have had the right to knock on that student’s door and ask for a cut?
If I make something useful and want to share it with another teacher, I should be allowed to do that. If a child produces artwork in my class, they should be able to do with it as they please. For the sake of ‘protecting’ someone’s ‘rights’ in that one-in-a-million situation where someone really might strike it big, they are proposing to kill the rights of hundreds of thousands of others, including innocent kids. How is that a win?
And, legality notwithstanding, the Techdirt write-up points out that this policy might be teaching our children an unintended lesson. As author Mike Masnick writes, “This is a public school system, a place in which knowledge is supposed to be shared for the sake of learning. And the lesson they’re sending is that information is to be hoarded by powerful entities for the sake of profits. Shameful.”