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School board asserts it owns copyrights to all students' work

Posting in Education

Who owns the content and materials generated within an educational facility? You may think it belongs to individual students, and often teachers. But a school board in Maryland says the rights actually go to the school.

Under a proposal by the Prince George’s County Board of Education, the school system will assert its ownership of work done by the school system’s staff and students, states a report by The Washington Post's Ovetta Wiggins.

In the corporate world, work generated by employees is considered to be owned by the employer, unless there is an agreement that states otherwise. Patentable projects developed on university campuses by professors or staff is usually considered university property, or the property of the corporate sponsor of research. (It's a different story if funded by the federal or a state government.) But professors, students and staff usually assume the rights for content they produce on their own, such as articles for journals.

As stated in the Prince George's proposal:

"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 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. Examples of works which the Board hereby takes ownership are: PGCPS Website: Individual School Website; Curriculum documents; Instructional materials for use in PGCPS or a specific school; Software and platforms developed for use by PGCPS, a specific school and/or the Board; Other works created for classroom use and instruction."

The school board states it is merely spelling out the terms of existing federal copyright laws, specifically Copyright Act of 1976, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, and the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act of 2002.

Assuming the copyrights for material developed for school websites or instructional software developed for specific curricula is a logical move. And under the umbrella of the school district, there is protection against liability for teachers and staff. But in terms of assuming legal ownership of students' work, or of any works even produced off-campus, is this school board taking things a little too far? If a student writes the chapter for a book as part of a school project, should he or she be barred from eventually publishing it in another venue, or for commercial purposes?

(Photo: NASA, My NASA DATA site.)

— By on February 6, 2013, 8:00 PM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure