UPDATE: Anthony Mazur has voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit against Lewisville Independent School District after the district agreed Mazur owned his photos from three years ago, and promised to stop requiring students to sign an agreement giving the district ownership of their photos.
Mazur said he decided to drop the lawsuit after discussions with LISD, saying “we got pretty much what we wanted.”
Mazur said he hopes that student journalists will now be able to use their photos how they want, including selling them and entering them in contests.
Mazur said “it’s a great feeling” to know that he owns the photos, and said he was grateful for the support he received from his lawyers, the Student Press Law Center and the community.
“This couldn’t have been done without them and all the support of all the journalists and artists in the community that got behind this,” Mazur said, later adding, “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.”
The SPLC recruited Austin-based attorney Joshua “JT” Morris to represent Mazur.
TEXAS — Three years after Lewisville Independent School District told Anthony Mazur to take down his Flickr gallery, Mazur is still fighting for the exclusive ownership of his photos.
In 2015, Mazur, then a student at Flower Mound (Texas) High School, was ordered by his school administration to take down a Flickr page where he was selling school sports photos to parents. Months later, the school required all members of the yearbook class to sign an agreement that the district owns the copyright to any work they produce.
RELATED: SPLC model copyright agreement
When Mazur, the photo editor for the school yearbook, The Legend, refused to sign the agreement, he was not allowed to use the school’s camera equipment. Photojournalists nationwide supported Mazur, sparking the #IAmAnthony hashtag on Twitter.
Now, Mazur — a student at the University of Dallas — is taking the battle to court. With the expertise of a volunteer attorney in Texas recruited by the Student Press Law Center, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mazur on March 21 against several school officials and LISD board members.
“LISD still, for some reason, can’t come out and officially, formally, clearly define what all their policies mean, which ones take precedence, or whether these photos are mine,” Mazur said. “We need an answer for me and other student journalists. It’s still going on, and this question needs to be resolved.”
According to the lawsuit, Mazur is asking the court to grant him the rights to his photos, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.
Amanda Brim, LISD’s chief communications officer, said it is not the district’s practice to comment on the specifics of pending lawsuits, but said “Lewisville ISD was surprised by the lawsuit because it has not infringed on the former student’s intellectual property rights in any way. The District looks forward to a quick resolution to this matter.”
Mazur, who said he has worked with his college newspaper, as well as the University of Dallas’ athletics department, said he has continued to see support from reporters and student journalists. He said he had been invited to speak at some high school and college journalism conferences.
The support picked up after The Dallas Morning News published a story on the lawsuit.
“There’s definitely an interest,” Mazur said. “My school newspaper actually retweeted it. I’m just getting a ton of support from students, even other photojournalists or people that I’ve worked with.”
Joshua “JT” Morris, an Austin-based attorney representing Mazur and member of SPLC’s Attorney Referral Network, said he’s confident they will get a favorable ruling. He said the lawsuit and Mazur’s story sends a message to other student journalists to “look out for this sort of treatment” from school officials.
“My focus is on vindicating Anthony’s rights, but certainly I think it will have a good effect for both students and school districts going forward,” Morris said.
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said if the school believed there to be an agreement in place, the student journalists should have been given the terms ahead of time.
“The journalist needs to know ahead of time what they’re agreeing to,” Osterreicher said. “For the school to then say… ‘the reason we were able to do this is because you do that,’ and there was no agreement ahead of time, I think that’s problematic, especially when it has implications for a person’s First Amendment rights.”
RELATED: Student media guide to copyright law
The lawsuit says that the LISD student handbook — at the time of the situation — said “a student shall retain all rights to work created as part of instruction or using District technology resources.”
Mazur said the process has taught him about the importance of standing up for his rights and perseverance. He said when he first decided to fight the school’s order with his parents, they agreed to take it only as far as made sense.
“But if we’re not wrong, how could we stop? The photos were clearly mine,” Mazur said.
Editor’s note: Read the Student Press Law Center’s news release about this case here.
Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free Weekly News Roundup.