Pr. Ge­orge’s con­sid­ers pol­icy to claim copy­right of stu­dent work

Pro­posal would give county’s Board of Ed­u­ca­tion own­er­ship of ev­ery­thing done for school

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY OVETTA WIG­GINS

A pro­posal by the Prince Ge­orge’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to copy­right work cre­ated by staff and stu­dents for school 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.

The mea­sure has some wor­ried that by the sys­tem claim­ing own­er­ship to the work of oth­ers, cre­ativ­ity could be sti­fled and there would be lit­tle in­cen­tive to come up with in­no­va­tive ways to ed­u­cate stu­dents. Some have ques­tioned the le­gal­ity of the pro­posal as it re­lates to stu­dents.

“There is some­thing in­her­ently wrong with that,” David Cahn, an ed­u­ca­tion ac­tivist who reg­u­larly at­tends county school board meet­ings, said be­fore the board’s vote to con­sider the pol­icy. “There are bet­ter ways to do this than to take away a per­son’s rights.”

If the pol­icy is ap­proved, the county would be­come the only ju­ris­dic­tion in the Washington re­gion where the school board as­sumes own­er­ship of work done by the school sys­tem’s staff and stu­dents.

David Rein, a lawyer and ad­junct law

pro­fes­sor who teaches in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri in Kansas City, said he had never heard of a lo­cal school board en­act­ing a pol­icy al­low­ing it to hold the copy­right for a stu­dent’s work.

Univer­si­ties gen­er­ally have “shar­ing agree­ments” for work cre­ated by pro­fes­sors and col­lege stu­dents, Rein said. Un­der those agree­ments, a univer­sity, pro­fes­sor and stu­dent typ­i­cally would ben­e­fit from a project, he said.

“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,’ ” Rein said. “I can’t imag­ine that.”

The pro­posal is part of a broader pol­icy the board is re­view­ing that would pro­vide guide­lines for the “use and cre­ation” of ma­te­ri­als devel­oped by em­ploy­ees and stu­dents. The boards’s staff rec­om­mended the pol­icy largely to ad­dress the in­creased use of tech­nol­ogy in the class­room.

Board Chair Ver­jeana M. Ja­cobs (District 5) said she and Vice Chair Carolyn M. Bos­ton (District 6) at­tended an Ap­ple pre­sen­ta­tion and learned how teach­ers can use apps to cre­ate new cur­ric­ula. The pro­posal was de­signed to make it clear who owns teacher-devel­oped cur­ric­ula cre­ated while us­ing apps on iPads that are school prop­erty, Ja­cobs said.

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.

Kevin Wel­ner, a pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Colorado in Boul­der, said the pro­posal ap­pears to be rev­enue-driven. There is a grow­ing sec­ondary on­line mar­ket for teacher les­son plans, he said.

“I think it’s just the district say­ing, ‘If there is some bril­liant idea that one of our teach­ers comes up with, we want be in on that. Not only be in on that, but to have it all,’ ” he said.

Wel­ner said teach­ers have al­ways looked for ways to de­velop ma­te­ri­als to reach their stu­dents, but “in the brave new world of soft­ware devel­op­ment, there might be more op­por­tu­nity to be cre­ative in ways that could reach be­yond that spe­cific teacher’s class­room.”

Still, Wel­ner said he doesn’t see the pol­icy af­fect­ing teacher be­hav­ior.

“Within a large district, there might be some who would in­vest a lot of time into some­thing that might be mar­ketable, but most teach­ers in­vest their time in teach­ing for the im­me­di­ate need of their stu­dents and this wouldn’t change that,” he said.

But it is the broad sweep of the pro­posed pol­icy that has raised con­cerns.

“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,” the pol­icy reads. “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.”

Ques­tioned about the pol­icy af­ter it was in­tro­duced, Ja­cobs said it was never the board’s “in­ten­tion to de­clare own­er­ship” of stu­dents’ work.

“Coun­sel needs to re­struc­ture the lan­guage,” Ja­cobs said. “We want the district to get the recog­ni­tion . . . not take their work.”

Ja­cobs said last week that it was pos­si­ble amend­ments could be made to the pol­icy at the board’s next meet­ing. The board ap­proved the pol­icy for con­sid­er­a­tion by a vote of 8 to 1 last month but has re­moved the item from its agenda Thurs­day.

School sys­tems in the Washington re­gion have poli­cies that ad­dress the use of copy­righted ma­te­ri­als, but none has rules that al­low own­er­ship of what a stu­dent cre­ates, of­fi­cials said. Some do ad­dress own­er­ship of em­ploy-

The pol­icy “es­sen­tially says if a stu­dent writes a pa­per, goes home and ex­pands it, the school district can knock on the door and say, ‘We want a piece of that.’ I can’t imag­ine that.”

David Rein, ad­junct law pro­fes­sor who teaches in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty

ees’ work.

The District holds com­mon law copy­right, at a min­i­mum, to all rel­e­vant in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty its city and school em­ploy­ees cre­ate, a spokes­woman said.

In Mont­gomery County, the school sys­tem says sup­plies, equip­ment or in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als that are made by a school em­ployee us­ing “sub­stan­tial time, fa­cil­i­ties or ma­te­ri­als” be­long­ing to the sys­tem be­come the prop­erty of the pub­lic schools. If the ac­tiv­ity is per­formed par­tially on pri­vate time and par­tially on pub­lic time, the school su­per­in­ten­dent will ap­prove the ar­range­ment, ac­cord­ing to the district’s con­flict-of-in­ter­est pol­icy.

Peter Jaszi, a law pro­fes­sor with the Glushko-Sa­muel­son In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Law Clinic at Amer­i­can Univer­sity, called the pro­posal in Prince Ge­orge’s “suf­fi­ciently ex­treme.”

Jaszi said the pol­icy sends the wrong mes­sage to stu­dents about re­spect­ing copy­right. He also ques­tioned whether the pol­icy, as it ap­plies to stu­dents, would be le­gal.

He said there would have to be an agree­ment be­tween the stu­dent and the board to al­low the copy­right of his or her work. A com­pany or or­ga­ni­za­tion can­not im­pose copy­right on “some­one by say­ing it is so,” Jaszi said. “That seems to be the fun­da­men­tal dif­fi­culty with this.”

Cahn said he un­der­stands the board’s move re­gard­ing an em­ployee’s work, but he called the pol­icy af­fect­ing the stu­dents “im­moral.”

“It’s like they are ex­ploit­ing the kids,” he said.

For Adri­enne Paul and her sis­ter, Abi­gail Schi­avello, who wrote a 28-page book more than a decade ago in ele­men­tary school for a project that landed them a na­tional tele­vi­sion in­ter­view with Rosie O’Don­nell and a $10,000 check from the Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety, the pol­icy — had it been in ef­fect — would have meant they would not have been able to sell the rights to “Our Mom Has Can­cer.”

Dawn Ack­er­man, their mother, said she would have ob­tained le­gal ad­vice if there had been a pol­icy like the one be­ing con­sid­ered when her daugh­ters wrote their book about her fight against can­cer 14 years ago.

“I really would have ob­jected to that,” Ack­er­man said.

Paul agreed, say­ing the pol­icy seems to be ill-con­ceived. It could sti­fle a child’s cre­ativ­ity and strip stu­dents and their fam­i­lies of what is right­fully theirs, she said.

“I think if you paint a pic­ture, pub­lish a book or cre­ate an in­ven­tion as a kid, your fam­ily — cer­tainly not the school board — should have the rights to that,” she said.

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