Copyright Ownership in Students’ Work

The issue of who owns copyright in works created by students has hit the newspapers and blogs this week due to a controversial proposed policy by the Prince George’s County Public Schools Board (in the state of Maryland.) According to the Washington Post, the proposed policy says that works created by students specifically for use by the Prince George’s County Public Schools are property of the Board of Education even if created on the student’s time and with the use of their own materials. The Policy further states that works created during school hours with the use of school system materials and within the scope of a student’s classroom work assignment are properties of the Board of Education.

The Board approved the policy last month but the policy has been removed from its agenda on Thursday’s meeting.

There is nothing in U.S. or Canadian copyright law to support such a policy. In fact, in both countries, the only way that a Board could own copyright in students’ work is by obtaining an assignment of copyright from the student. This assignment must be in writing. So, a policy by itself would not put the copyright in the hands of the Board.

The proposed policy also applies to all employees in the Prince George’s County Public Schools. Section 201 of the U.S. Copyright Act has a work for hire provision that addresses ownership of works created in the course of employment as part of one’s duties. However the proposed policy goes beyond this provision in placing ownership in the Board even works created on the employee’s own time. A transfer of ownership can only take place in a written agreement.


  1. Lesley says:

    Hi Mike, it is a matter of fact and looking at all of the facts. Where the work is created is only one of several factors. Even work created at work if part of one’s duties may be considered to be work created in an employment situation.

  2. Mike Bradley says:

    Just a quibble. An employer’s ownership of employee-created material isn’t bound by when or where the material was created. The key is whether the material is created as part of the employee’s responsibilities. A teacher creating study materials at his computer at home is still working within his responsibilities as a teacher.

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