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You’ll Have To Pry My Copyrights Out Of My Cold Dead Hands

Feb 5, 2013 by
Copyright Law

Obviously, like every other American, I read the news about proposed gun control laws. Like most Americans, I’m outraged and I do have an opinion. But for now, I’m here to rant about an issue that I, as a writer, deem even more outrageous than the gun control issue. Today I read an article in the Columbus Dispatch reporting that a school district in Maryland is trying to take copyrights away from students.

The Prince George County Board of Education in Upper Marlboro, MD, has a proposal on the table that would automatically grant the school district the copyrights on all intellectual property created by the students and teachers in their system. This measure would cover all essays, all artwork, all teacher lesson plans and even apps created by the students for their own personal use. But wait, there’s more.

Under this measure, the Prince George County Board of Education would retain the rights to all work created on the school’s time, on the student or teacher’s own personal time, and whether that work was created using school supplies and equipment or not.

In essence, if passed, the school board will own everything a teacher or student creates, no matter when or where they create it, as long as they are employed by or attending the school.

I’m sure you can understand my outrage at this proposal, but just in case, let me give you some examples of why this is so very wrong.

The Washington Post tells the story of Adrienne Paul and her sister, Abigail Schiavello. Adrienne and Abigail’s mother was a cancer survivor and for an elementary school project the two girls wrote a 28-page book titled, “Our Mom Has Cancer.”

The book drew national attention and the girls were invited to appear on the Rosie O’Donell show where they were given a $10,000 check from the American Cancer Society, who later went on to publish their book in 2001.

Had this policy been in effect at that time, the girls would have had to give that check to the school and they never would have been allowed to transfer the copyright to the American Cancer Society for publication.

But Adrienne and Abigail aren’t the only two students who would have suffered under this policy. If this measure had been in effect when Amanda Hocking wrote her first books, the millions of dollars she’s earned as a popular YA novelist would have gone to her school.

A few years ago teenager Ashely Crawls turned down a multi-million dollar offer for her website where she created MySpace layouts – while she was still in school. Tavi Gevinson is one of the top bloggers in the fashion industry and she owns her own online magazine. She’s still in high school.

The list goes on. All over America teens are making money with blogs, creating and selling apps, and self-publishing their books at Amazon. And I haven’t even mentioned the teachers yet.

According to The Washington Post, “Kevin Welner, a professor and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said the proposal appears to be revenue-driven. There is a growing secondary online market for teacher lesson plans, he said.”

“I think it’s just the district saying, ‘If there is some brilliant idea that one of our teachers comes up with, we want be in on that. Not only be in on that, but to have it all,’” he said.

But Welner also said it’s really no big deal. He doesn’t see is affecting teachers all that much.

“Within a large district, there might be some who would invest a lot of time into something that might be marketable, but most teachers invest their time in teaching for the immediate need of their students and this wouldn’t change that,” he said.

Two questions for Mr. Welner. One, how does he know that most teachers invest their time in teaching, not creating something that might be marketable? And two, what about those teachers who aren’t part of the majority, those teachers who do spend time creating a marketable product so they can supplement their income? Do these teachers not have rights, too?

Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution states:

“The Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

We are endowed with this inalienable right by the Constitution of the United States of America. In order to transfer this right a formal agreement between both parties must be reached. No school board has the right, or the ability, to make a sweeping statement that simply say, “We own it.” They must first require that each student and teacher sign an agreement.

Here’s hoping the students and teachers in the Prince George County school district understand their Constitutional rights and stop this foolishness before it goes any farther. Because those members of the school board would have to pry my copyrights out of my cold, dead hands.


photo by: no3rdw

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