This Sort of Thing Has Just Got to Stop

It’s one thing for companies to insist on ownership of patents for things developed in their labs on their time.  At least the inventors sometimes get internal recognition, not to mention resumé cred.

But now we have a school board in Prince George’s County, Maryland, that wants to assert ownership of the copyrights not just for things like lesson plans and computer apps created by teachers in the system using district-provided iPads and other tools, but also for material written or developed by students as part of a classroom assignment.

And that is just plain wrong.  Wrong wrong wrong with a side order of extremely bad and heinous.  And did I mention, just plain wrong?

Not that I feel strongly on the subject, or anything like that.

13 thoughts on “This Sort of Thing Has Just Got to Stop

  1. Were that a policy of our kids’ school district I would advise them to refuse to do in-class assignments.

  2. IANAL buy you can’t resign copyright in the U.S. by fiat; you have to signify agreement. Moreover, it can’t be passive agreement, that is, by merely using the iPads, you can’t signify agreement. It’s not even clear that clicking an OK button after reading a policy is enough.

    Not to mention the fact that minors can’t sign a contract and do not themselves have the right to give up their copyright.

    And yes, this is stupid and wrong.

    1. My understanding is that, in general, my students here at MIT own the IP for the works they create in class, as it is not “work for hire”.

      What a teacher creates to help them teach certainly appears to me to be “work for hire”.

      If my kids school wants to own copyright on their creations, the school can pay for it!

  3. My parents were teachers. I stopped being surprised by stupid moves on the part of school boards and school administrators a long long time ago.

    (I’m certain there are competent, hardworking, not-crazy school board members and administrators out there. My heart goes out to them for all the stupidity they have to struggle against on a daily basis.)

  4. “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards.” — Mark Twain

  5. When I was a grad student at the University of Georgia in the 1980s, a condition of all graduate assistantships was that the university owned copyright in anything you discovered, invented or published while in their employ, even if you did it on your own time.

    1. Grad students have to agree to a lot of bad stuff; it’s not quite indentured servitude, but it’s a lot closer to the old master/apprentice contracts than we really like to admit.

      “Take it or leave it” is a lousy choice, but at least they get that much. K-12 students don’t get diddly.

    2. Graduate students (in engineering and sciences, at any rate) may very well be exposed to cutting-edge technology, some of which may be proprietary, belong to third-parties, or be producing results that have been promised to whomever is paying the bills. It’s unpleasant, but one can see the point of view of the university. For what it’s worth, I don’t know of any cases where academic institutions went after a student or professor for creative works (music or novels, for example) that clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with research topics. Still had to tell them about ’em, of course, in order to prevent possible conflicts of interest.

      Also, nobody is forced to go to grad school. Not quite the same situation as a junior high student.

      1. I’ve taught Freshman Composition (aka English 101, aka Intro to Rhetoric, aka whatever name is fashionable this year) more than once, and most of the textbooks have included illustrative examples drawn from what they alleged to be actual student essays.

        I’ve often wondered, over the years, whether or not any of the textbook authors ever asked permission or offered compensation to the students for the use of those examples. My inner cynic takes leave to doubt that they did.

      2. Permission to publish student work as an example in a textbook, absolutely required. Compensation? This is English we’re talking about here.

  6. I’m in the next county over. Given how PG county government is run (which is to say, with scissors), I’m not surprised. But I am appalled. I hope some parents with standing to sue convince the school board to Sit Down on this one.

    I’m very tempted to run for the local school board, just so that I can be a pest to the anti-teacher, anti-student busybodies who come up with nonsense like this. But my spouse is a teacher in our county, so I’m not sure if I’m allowed.

  7. I do wonder if this “policy” is the mutant spawn of a legitimate concern over using student work as examples in teacher training. That’s done, and there are legal concerns with confidentiality and copyright that must be thought about. Add gamma radiation, a glowing spider, a barrel of toxic sludge, and the fires of Hell and this legitimate concern might morph into a policy that All Your Work Is Belong To Us.

  8. I teach in this county. I think there are two other possible reasons behind the policy. 1) Several students in this and surrounding counties have developed STEM projects with significant possibilities for medical and scientific development. Having a piece of a cure for a cancer first developed as a Science Fair project might bring in good money. 2) Currently the County pays teachers to develop curriculum but if they can claim the lessons we write and the demonstration/ practice materials we develop for our classrooms then they can give/sell/use those without paying for our extra time and materials. Generally Elementary teachers share their lesson plans freely but we want the recognition (and balk at the county making money off our creativity). Some teachers do sell their ideas online for small amounts. The article says the County wants the recognition. Anyway we recently got this email: To All PGCPS Staff,
    We apologize for any confusion that may have been caused by a recent article published by The Washington Post regarding a “draft” copyright policy that we are currently developing in preparation for our implementation of the new Common Core Standards. The article does not accurately portray the intent of the “draft” policy. Please know that we would never try to impede on the creativity of our students, teachers and employees. In fact we encourage it. The policy is currently on hold and under legal review until further notice. Thank you.

    Note: they do not wish to impede…they encourage…they do not deny wanting to profit


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