Can Schools Copyright Students' Creative Works?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on February 08, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's possible that schools in Prince George's County, Maryland will soon own copyrights to all student works created at school. Same could go for teachers' works too.

That means everything from a first grader's butterfly to a high school senior's term paper could be deemed the school's intellectual property. Not to mention teacher lesson plans and curricula.

You'd be correct in thinking this move is unusual. If the proposal is adopted by the county board of education, it would be the first in the area to have this policy. The big question on many people's minds at this point: Is it legal?

That's a really good question, and it's not clear yet what the answer would be. The fact that this applies to students and not just teachers changes everything.

Many employers have policies stating that anything created by an employee on company time belongs to the company and not the individual. That gives the company automatic rights to intellectual property created by employees while at work.

But students are different than workers. They don't necessarily have the option of choosing a different school, like an employee would in facing this kind of rule.

There's also the issue of enforcement. Employees agree to company policies when they sign their employment agreements, but students wouldn't necessarily have the opportunity to assent to this policy.

Even if they did, it's unclear how binding the agreement would be since almost all the students are underage.

Besides the legal concerns, the proposal may also be a bad policy when it comes to education.

Automatically giving a school intellectual property rights may discourage creativity in the classroom, critics told The Washington Post. Students who have innovative ideas may lose their rights to those ideas under this proposed policy.

Then again, the inclusion of students' work along with teachers' efforts could just be an oversight that will be altered in amendments. The proposal is still under review by the board.

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