Texas high school student released from administrative directive, but questions still remain

TEXAS — After a “weird” school board decision, the Texas high school student who was ordered to take down his online photo gallery is awaiting confirmation that he will be allowed to repost his pictures.

Anthony Mazur was thrust into the national spotlight in March after a Flower Mound High School administrator told him to take down his Flickr gallery of school sports photos that he was selling to parents. After Superintendent Kevin Rodgers upheld the order, Mazur and his parents appealed to the Board of Trustees at the Lewisville Independent School District.

School administrators had argued that selling the photos online violated copyright law because the photos were taken with the school’s camera. They also argued that it violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal student privacy law.

Questions still surround the substance of the board’s June 15 decision.

“Due to the weird phrasing of the school board vote, we believe I am possibly in the clear to repost the pictures,” Mazur said in an email.

At the meeting, board member Brenda Latham initiated a motion to grant Mazur’s parents’ appeal and “set aside” the administrative directive. The board unanimously voted in favor of the motion.

However, Latham also said that “the student will be allowed to use his or her own equipment and photograph LISD events open to the public from public viewing areas.”

Mazur said he originally wasn’t sure what to think about that statement, because many of his photos were taken with school equipment. Mazur and school officials had also disagreed on whether his photos were taken from public spaces.

In a phone call after the board vote, Tommy Ellington, student services executive director, clarified to Mazur’s parents that Rodgers intends to let him repost all of his pictures, Mazur said in an email. Mazur and his parents are awaiting written confirmation from Rodgers.

School district spokeswoman Elizabeth Haas declined to comment on the specifics of the board’s ruling, citing FERPA.

Assistant principal orders Mazur to take photos down

Mazur said he got the idea to sell his work during a session at the Texas Association of Journalism Educators Conference in October 2014. He could shoot sports images for his yearbook, but because he retained the rights to the images, he could also sell them online.

“They were saying that students own the pictures they take and a teacher mentioned that one of her students started selling his pictures to media outlets,” Mazur said about the discussion at the conference. “I was just getting into photography, so I hadn’t really considered that before.”

At one point, his account had over 4,000 photos of student sports.

“I’m not a millionaire,” he said, “but I’m just a sophomore and a few parents were interested and I thought that was pretty cool.”

Assistant Principal Jeffrey Brown first told Mazur to take down the photos when he called him to a meeting in his office in March.

When he entered the office, Mazur said his online portfolio was pulled up on his computer, and Brown asked if the website was still active.

“I said it was,” Mazur said. “That’s when he got really angry, and he started saying I don’t own the pictures, I can’t post them online, what I was doing was illegal.”

Mazur said he attempted to explain that copyright law gave him ownership of the photos, but then Brown changed tactics, saying that he was taking pictures of minors and had special access to the sports games with school equipment.

“He kind of jumped around with all these different arguments, but I guess he finally settled on posting with the intention to profit,” Mazur said.

“He was getting pretty frustrated, and he just sounded like he wanted to get it over with and just take the website down,” Mazur said. “He told me: ‘I’m just asking you to take the website down. I’m not going to ask you to return any money, I’m not going to report you to the IRS for not filing taxes.’”

Mazur said that Brown told him he could receive in-school suspension if he did not comply.

Brown issued the administrative directive in a meeting with Mazur and his parents the next day.

Principal, superintendent uphold the order

After taking down all the photos, Mazur and his parents appealed to Principal Sonya Lail.

Mazur said his parents were told by Lail that not only did Mazur not own the copyright to the photos, but that posting them online also violated FERPA, the student privacy law.

“My parents were like, ‘Well then we’re all confused, because the principals themselves are posting pictures of sporting events on their social media; we’re not believing that there is this privacy issue.’”

After Lail upheld the directive, Mazur and his parents appealed to Ellington, who was acting superintendent.

Ellington said that Mazur was not in violation of FERPA or the district’s policy on intellectual property, Mazur said. However, Ellington said that Lail had appropriately issued the directive based on the concerns of parents.

The district’s intellectual property policy states that students retain all rights to works created as part of instruction or using district technology resources.

School, Mazur debate Acceptable Use Policy and special access

In a closed session of the school board meeting on June 15, Ellington defended the school’s order. He argued that Mazur posted images of people without their consent, in violation of the district’s Acceptable Use Policy.

The policy states that electronically posting data, including video recordings, about others or one’s self when it is not related to a class project or without the permission of all parties, constitutes “inappropriate use” of the district’s electronic communications systems. The AUP defined electronic communications systems to include the district’s network, servers, mobile technologies, and “any other technology designated for use by students.”

In addressing the board, Mazur’s father, Len Mazur, argued that the AUP didn’t apply in Mazur’s case because he uploaded the photos using his home server, not the district’s. He also argued that using a school camera didn’t violate the AUP because the camera itself doesn’t upload photos.

During the meeting, multiple people, primarily Lail, said that Mazur was given special access to the fields, Mazur said.

Hass, the district spokeswoman, said Lewisville ISD’s practice is to not interfere with the posting of photos to third-party sites if they are taken from an area accessible to the public, using the photographer’s own device.

Haas declined to comment on the specific definition of public areas. Haas also declined to comment on what the district’s policy is if a student takes photos from a school device or from an area not classified as open to the public.

Mazur believes he was not given special access.

He did have a press pass, but anyone can walk onto the field and take pictures, he said. Mazur pointed out that other media outlets, such as the Dallas Morning News, photograph games and often make their photos available for sale on their websites.

“We’re wondering why this person standing right next to me can post pictures and I can’t,” he said.

Mazur intends to continue his photography work for the yearbook next year.

“I don’t want this to hold me back or stop me,” Mazur said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I love doing.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Trisha LeBoeuf by email or at (202) 974-6318.