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Student taught school district a lesson in copyright law

 

A former Texas high school student has dismissed a lawsuit he had filed against his school district and certain administrators. In the federal action, he asserted his copyright in photos he took in the course of his education at Flower Mound High School. According to the Student Press Law Center or SPLC, because the Lewisville Independent School District now acknowledges that Anthony Mazur owns the copyright to the photographs, he agreed to voluntarily dismiss the suit. 

Generally, a photographer owns pictures he or she creates, including the right to earn money by selling prints. Copyright protections normally last for 70 years after the owner dies.

Works for hire 

An exception to the automatic rule that the creator of an original work owns its copyright is the work-for-hire doctrine, which holds that the employer normally owns works created during employment by an employee. (Rights to works created as a freelancer or pursuant to a commission or contract are more complicated and may depend on the nature of the agreement between the parties under which the work was created.) 

Yearbook photos 

The scenario in the Texas case is not an employment situation. High school student Mazur took pictures for use in student media such as the yearbook. Sometimes he used school equipment or the school’s press credentials. When he tried to sell some of these images online, a principal told him to stop doing so. The district superintendent agreed with the principal’s position. 

Confusingly, the school district also had a regulation saying that students own works they create in school, but the administrators took the opposite position against Mazur, not even backing down after the school board reversed their order. 

According to the SPLC press release, the school made every student participating in “student journalistic programs” sign a “waiver of ownership rights.” Mazur, however, would not agree to sign one. 

School district response 

The SPLC reports that national support for Mazur surged as his story spread through media coverage, resulting in the #IAmAnthony campaign. Mazur’s March 2018 lawsuit requested a “declaration that neither the school nor the district has any claim of ownership to Mazur’s original creative work.” 

In late June, Mazur dismissed the suit because each defendant issued a sworn statement “affirming the validity of the district’s ownership rules and disclaiming any ownership in Mazur’s works.” Specifically, they say that Mazur owns the intellectual property rights and pictures created as a student. 

The school district also represents that it will no longer require students to sign the waiver of ownership form.

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