A Public School District Attempts to Own Teachers’ And Students’ Work

A Public School District Attempts to Own Teachers’ And Students’ Work

Any grassroots movement will soon run into opposition. And Open Education is no different. Still, I was shocked when I read about a new proposal from the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Board of Education to copyright the intellectual property of its teachers and students.

Open Education Faces Opposition

As reported by the Washington Post on Feb. 2, 2013,  an Apple presentation about empowering teachers to create their own materials with iPad technology threatened the Maryland-area School Board’s sense of curricular control and triggered the draconian proposal:

Board Chair Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) said she and Vice Chair Carolyn M. Boston (District 6) attended an Apple presentation and learned how teachers can use apps to create new curricula. The proposal was designed to make it clear who owns teacher-developed curricula created while using apps on iPads that are school property, Jacobs said.

The Washington Post article noted that it is not unusual for a company or a college to hold some of the rights to an employee’s work. But this proposal is different.

…the Prince George’s policy goes a step further by saying that work created for the school by employees during their own time and using their own materials is the school system’s property.

Try Creative Commons

Not surprisingly, the legal status of the proposal has been challenged. Somebody needs to tell the Prince George’s County School Board about Creative Commons open licenses, a new form of copyright that permits the sharing of content while protecting the rights of all stakeholders: the school system, the teachers and the students.

Whatever the outcome, the proposal is clearly an affront to the educational value of openness. And that’s a shame, because the open sharing of ideas is pretty much the essence of education.

As the OER movement continues to grow, there will be more efforts to oppose openness. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this development. 

Carl BlythCarl Blyth is Director of COERLL and Associate Professor of French, UT Austin.  His research includes CMC,  cross-cultural and intercultural pragmatics, interactional sociolinguistics, and pedagogical grammar.  He is project director of eComma, an open-source annotation application to facilitate more “social” forms of reading.

To read more about the Open Education approach, check out Making Collaboration Easier also by Carl Blyth.


  1. As a librarian, I have been following this story closely. The optimist in me hopes that the actions of the School Board in this case were the result of a knowledge deficit—a deficit that will quickly be remedied with the massive amount of attention and information now being directed to the School Board in question. However, the conspiracy theorist in me worries about these ripples of activity on the part of folks in positions of “power” (i.e. the Prince George School Board, the US Dept. of Justice—hinting at the possibility of filing a brief against fair use in the Georgia State case (http://ow.ly/hKQZz), the overly zealous prosecution of Aaron Swartz (http://ow.ly/hKSMZ), among others) against openness. At my own institution, I know there are faculty struggling with the university to maintain rights to their intellectual property. And, while I hope that these are isolated incidents, all of the above leaves me feeling a bit uneasy.

    • Thanks, Becky, for bringing the Georgia State case to our attention. That is a very important development and something we all need to learn more about. It leaves me feeling uneasy too. But it seems so contradictory. Why would the Obama administration be siding with publishers against the schools when the Obama administration has been a supporter of Open Education. You can’t support OE without upsetting the copyright status quo.

  2. I agree with you this is silly and excessive, on their own time and own materials. That shouldn’t hold. But with other instances, it might be more grey. One of the measures is who purchased and manages the tool. The other is who’s time that the work is done on. The third is what the underlying rights to the materials are. Another is who initiated the material development, admin or faculty? Another is, was it a pre-existing course? Who paid for the work to be done, and how much? All of this is compounded by the cloud, and the ability for anyone to easily move, duplicate, and delete data., i.e., course materials. Ownership of IP all around is really being challenged by digital media, the iPad’s just a part of that rapidly shifting ecosystem.

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