NEWS RELEASE: Student photojournalist who sued to retain copyright for his work is vindicated
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 28, 2018
Contact: Diana Mitsu Klos, director of engagement (202) 728-7267/ firstname.lastname@example.org
A Texas student whose high school insisted on claiming ownership of photos he took for use in student media publications dismissed his lawsuit against school officials this week after the school district backed down and acknowledged his ownership.
Anthony Mazur, now a college junior, filed suit in March of this year seeking to clarify that, despite the fact that he worked in student media and at times used school equipment and school-issued press passes, he retained the copyright in his photos and the right to display and sell them online.
“This case demonstrates, again, that a student’s work belongs to the student. It is a core principle not only for copyright purposes but also to support the broader free press rights of student journalists working against censorship.” said Hadar Harris, SPLC executive director. “The Student Press Law Center is proud to have stepped up to protect Mazur’s rights and grateful for the first-rate legal work done on his behalf by volunteer JT Morris, a member of the SPLC Attorney Referral Network.”
While attending Flower Mound High School near Dallas during the 2014-15 academic year, Mazur made some of his photos available for sale through a personal online photo-sharing site, until an assistant principal ordered him to stop. The administrator claimed that Mazur was selling photos belonging to the school, a directive upheld by Superintendent Kevin Rogers.
Federal copyright law recognizes the creator of any original work, including a photograph, to be the owner of that work unless ownership has been contracted away or the work is created in the course of salaried employment ("work made for hire"). Administrators at Flower Mound insisted that Mazur and others taking part in student journalistic programs sign a waiver of ownership rights, but Mazur refused to sign.
The Lewisville Independent School District has a written regulation mirroring federal copyright law that affirms students own the work they create, including as part of their coursework, but Principal Sonya Lail and Assistant Principal Jeffrey Brown took the position that the school regulation did not apply and insisted that the school owns its students' work.
Although the school board overturned their directive in June 2015 and gave Mazur the go-ahead to repost his photos, Lail and Brown never withdrew from their position that students' photos are school property.
The school's unorthodox position generated a nationwide outcry among the photojournalism community and others, with a social-media hashtag campaign, #IAmAnthony, garnering thousands of supporters.
“I really appreciate all the support and the trust and the encouragement that people put behind me so that we can get students their photo rights,” Mazur said.
Represented by attorney Morris of JT Morris Law, LLC, in Austin, Mazur filed suit against the district, Rogers, Lial, Brown and another administrator, Tommy Ellington, on March 21 in federal district court in Sherman, Texas. The lawsuit sought a declaration that neither the school nor the district has any claim of ownership to Mazur's original creative work.
The district responded by producing a series of sworn statements from each of the individual defendants affirming the validity of the district's ownership rules and disclaiming any ownership in Mazur's work. The declarations state, in part, that Mazur "possesses intellectual property rights and exclusive ownership of the photographs he created while enrolled as a student in Lewisville ISD."
The school district also assured Mazur that no student is being required to sign a waiver of ownership as a condition of participating in student media.
“It was a pleasure to represent Anthony. It was obvious when first speaking with him that he cares deeply about protecting the IP and expressive rights of student journalists,” Morris said. “It was unfortunate that he was ever placed in a position where he had to fight to ensure he could enjoy the exclusive rights in photographs he created. But Anthony’s perseverance resulted in a positive outcome that should help both students and school officials avoid similar situations, and enhance respect for the intellectual property and expressive rights of student journalists.”
See the Notice of Dismissal and SPLC’s reporting on this case here.
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the nation's only legal assistance organization devoted exclusively to supporting the student news media in covering important issues free from censorship. The SPLC trains high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment and also works with journalism advisers and school administrators to support student media. A nonprofit, nonpartisan 501c(3), the SPLC provides free legal resources and information as well as low-cost educational materials for student journalists on a wide variety of topics at splc.org.
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