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National News

February 4, 2013

Copyrighting Your Kindergartner's Doodles?

WASHINGTON — A proposal by Maryland's 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."

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