Who Owns the Copyright to a Student’s Science Fair Project?

by DonaldScarinci@yahoo.com on February 19, 2013 · 0 comments

in martindale.com

A copyright battle is heating up in Maryland, and it involves a very unlikely subject—students’ schoolwork. From science fair projects to finger paintings, the Prince George’s County Board of Education’s proposed educational copyright policy would ensure that work created by students and staff would become the property of the school system.

The policy specifically states:

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… 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.

Not surprisingly, the copyright policy has created a lot of buzz. The county maintains that the policy is designed to target computer programs and other online curricula that teachers may create for their students and later sell for profit. However, critics argue that the policy goes way too far and runs the risk of stifling creativity, among both students and staff.

The legal basis for the policy is also under fire. Under the “work-for-hire” doctrine, works made during the scope of one’s employment belong to the employer. In 2004, a federal appellate court in New York confirmed that the doctrine applied to “tests, quizzes, homework problems, and other teaching materials” prepared by teachers. Therefore, the policy could likely be upheld as applied to educators.

However, a similar legal justification does not exist when it comes to students, particularly those under 18. Without a waiver execution by a parent or legal guardian, copyright law holds that the rights to any works remain with the student.

Ultimately, the backlash seems to be forcing county administrators to reconsider reigning back the policy. Briant Coleman, a spokesman for the school board, recently stated, “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.”

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