The non-profit, Massachusetts Center for Rights urges parents, students and teachers to take up a cause that doesn’t really exist. The petition and website, “Don’t Copyright the Classroom,” asks people to, “Tell the Prince George’s County Board of Education, ‘Please don’t copyright your students’ and teachers’ best work” follows an initiative by Maryland’s Prince George’s County Board of Education to copyright the work of students and teachers. Both the Board’s proposal and “Don’t Copy the Classroom’s” petition are based on a misunderstanding of copyright laws.

As we reported last week, the proposal reads in part:

“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.”

The Center for Rights’ website, a project of the Internet activist group “Fight for the Future,” reads in part:

Can you imagine if every school did this?

Copyright is getting out of control. Prince George’s County is a large school system. If this policy goes into effect, it could set a terrible precedent at a time when quality education is needed more than ever. Students and teachers deserve the same rights as everyone else. 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.

The Board of Education does not have the option simply to copyright the work of its students and teachers. Copyright belongs to the creator of a work the moment that work is “created in fixed form.” In the case of students, there’s no question that whatever they produce belongs to them. They could license of transfer their work to the School Board, but that would require an agreement signed by their parents. In the case of the teachers, the School Board might argue that their work, which might include lesson plans, belongs to the District under the principle of “work made for hire,” defined as a “work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment….” However, there’s an important caveat here. The work is only a “work made for hire” if “the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.” The teachers own their work also unless they signed it away explicitly in an employment contract or some other written, and binding, form.

In the Prince George’s case there’s really no need for a petition, just the application of some very basic copyright law. For its part Fight for the Future didn’t require a petition. Fight for the Future was co-founded by Tiffiny Cheng and Holmes Wilson, who also founded Open Congress and Miro.

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