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Can a school district copyright the apple tree your child drew?

This print, ‘The common law in the similitude of a tree’, has an interesting history. Many derivative works have been based on it. Copyrights from earlier days are actually often easier to track down than those covering works created today. This image comes from the U.S. Library of Congress digital collection, noting the copyright claimant as R.C. Bierce, counselor at law (1878). An article at the Widener Law blog (Del.) said the artist was the uncle of American author Ambrose Bierce.Can a school district claim ownership of the apple tree your child drew?

It was bound to happen in an age when technology provides so many ways to create images and text. Whether it’s little Tamika drawing a photo of the apple tree that grows in her back yard, or Mrs. Scott penning a custom lesson plan about (government-funded) global warming “science”, there’s a copyright in place automatically. That copyright won't let you recoup monetary damages, however. You have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office to do that.

Can the school district claim ownership of Tamika or Mrs. Scott’s work? The district can try.

I apologize for linking to The Washington Post, but that’s the publication that reported:

A proposal by the 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.

It’s my understanding that copyright automatically resides with the original creator of a work of art or scholarship.

It’s also my understanding that a creator pays when he or she seeks official copyright through the struggling U.S. Copyright Office, a virtual dinosaur in the government bureaucracy when it comes to efficiency.

Ironically, copyright is one of the specific powers delegated to Congress in the U.S. Constitution, with a specific purpose in mind: “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…”

Somehow various congresses and presidents have stretched that provision to funding mediocre poetry and tutus in small town America, but that’s another taxpayer argument that has little to do with intellectual property rights law.

My primary questions about the Prince George proprosal are (1) Who will pay the fee and (2)Who determines ownership for those group projects where five kids are on the team and three do all the work?

A final question is: Doesn’t the school board have actual, meaningful work to do?

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Feb. 4, 2013)

Related Article

Art in the law library: law, legal education and research in the similitude of a tree (Widener Law Library blog)

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Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for the wonderful information - just wondering if anyone else has had any relevant experiences to share on copyright image.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJack Brown
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