Intellectual Property Law

'Extreme' proposal would make teachers' lesson plans, students' art projects school system property


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A Maryland county’s board of education has proposed a policy that would to copyright work created by its staff and students for school–which would mean that even something like a first-grader’s drawing would belong to the school system.

“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,’ ” David Rein, a lawyer and adjunct at the University of Missouri in Kansas City School of Law told the Washington Post. “I can’t imagine that.”

The policy was recommended largely to clarify who owns curricula created by teachers while using apps on iPads that are school property, Prince George’s County Board of Education chair Verjeana M. Jacobs told the Post.

Jacobs said the district never intended to declare ownership of students’ work, and that the language of the proposal needs to be restructured. “We want the district to get the recognition…not take [students’] work,” she told the Post.

American University law professor Peter Jaszi called the policy “sufficiently extreme” and wonders if it would actually be legal as written. For it to be legal, Jaszi said, there would have to be an agreement between a student and the board to allow his or her work to be copyrighted.

Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, told the Post that he thinks the proposal is revenue-driven. There is a significant secondary online market for teachers’ 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,” Welner said. “Not only be in on that, but to have it all.’ ”

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