Texas school district is not backing down from asking students to sign over the copyright to their work

TEXAS — A month and a half into the new school year, junior Anthony Mazur is immersed in yet another battle with school and district administrators over the copyright and ownership of his photographs.

Mazur, who made national headlines last school year after the school district attempted to stop him from selling pictures of school sporting events to interested parents, is now fighting against another rule by the district. All students in the school’s yearbook class now have to sign an agreement that any work they produce as part of the class using district technology “belongs solely to the district.”

The Lewisville Independent School District contract says students’ images will be “considered ‘works made for hire’ as the work is specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, including but not limited to a school newspaper or yearbook.” By signing this form, the contract says, students “release any claim of ownership to images taken of other students with equipment owned by the district.” The form is necessary to use district equipment, like school cameras or computers.

Mazur, who has refused to sign the work-for-hire agreement, was denied a school camera to take pictures of the school’s pep rally for the yearbook last week. Instead, he drew pictures in protest, using the hashtag #IAmAnthony, which photojournalists around the country have used to show support for Mazur’s ongoing battles.

“That’s kind of all I could do, draw pictures since they wouldn’t let me use the equipment,” he said.

In the beginning, there were one or two other students in the class who were hesitant to sign the contract, Mazur said, but now, he’s the only one who is still refusing to sign.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “It’s insane. I’m the photo editor of the yearbook and I can’t even go take pictures with the [school] camera.”

In the spring, Mazur fought his school’s order to take down his Flickr gallery of school sports photos all the way up to the school board. The board decided in June to set aside that order — but there was still some confusion about what the district’s policy would be going forward. Now, the current situation has raised more questions.

In a video, Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein listed several legal defects of the contract, including the fact that the agreement is coercive and that students already had access to the district equipment because it is paid for by the state of Texas — and so students are not getting anything in exchange for signing away their copyright.

“This is a hugely defective agreement,” Goldstein said in the video. “There’s no legitimate reason to do this. No other school in the country has felt the need to do this; for decades, we’ve managed to get through public education without doing this. The only reason I can think anyone would try to do this is the district is having a temper tantrum because they didn’t get their way. Well, they’re not going to get their way now, so look out for their temper tantrum next year because certainly we’re going to help Anthony oppose this, we’re going to look for more local counsel to help him oppose this in more formal ways, and I have faith that all the organizations that stepped up before are going to step up again and help Anthony oppose this.”

Elizabeth Haas, a spokeswoman for the school district, said in an email that the district believes its expectations are legal.

“All students are active participants in the class, whether they sign the form or not,” she said. “Students who choose not to sign the form are able to use their personal camera equipment to complete assignments for class.”

Haas said this is the first year the school district has utilized this form. She didn’t respond to follow-up questions about why the district felt the form was needed.

The form states: “Non-compliance with these school rules may result in: Denial of access to District-owned equipment and/or press credentials except for school specific assignments.” Haas bolded the “may” in her email, but Mazur said he was told by school administrators when he went to check out a camera for the school pep rally that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the camera because he had not signed the form.

Students will not be transferred from the class if they choose not to sign the form, Haas said.

The school originally told Mazur that he needed to sign the form to complete the class, and Mazur said he and his parents have told the school that they can’t “deny me the right to use this equipment to complete the class.”

School officials then told Mazur that they can’t comment on the situation.

“If the district isn’t going to listen to or answer us, our only option is to get representation and say, this is a letter from a lawyer saying you can’t do this,” Mazur said.

Mazur has a camera at home, but he said he doesn’t want to “carry a $3,000 piece of equipment around school all day.”

And besides, “the camera’s not the point,” he said, adding that he’s more concerned with signing over his copyright. In a post about the situation, he said this could prevent students from having copies of their own pictures and stop them from submitting pictures to photo contests without getting license approval from the school.

“They’re making a big problem out of nothing,” he said.

Contact SPLC staff writer Madeline Will at 202-833-4614 or by email.