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Student Photographer Threatened With Suspension For Sports Photos 379

sandbagger writes: Anthony Mazur is a senior at Flower Mound High School in Texas who photographed school sports games and other events. Naturally he posted them on line. A few days ago he was summoned to the principal's office and threatened with a suspension and 'reporting to the IRS' if he didn't take those 4000 photos down. Reportedly, the principal's rationale was that the school has copyright on the images and not him.
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Student Photographer Threatened With Suspension For Sports Photos

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  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:49PM (#49746343) Homepage

    So, another thread about some random clueless school principal.

    Look, the vast majority of us (at least the non-ACs) have already graduated from high school. We know that your average principal has to check the school policy manual to figure out which leg to put in the trouser first. And then they mess it up half the time anyway.

    Not much to see here. Some lawyer will be around presently to wack some sense into the the school district.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is true. There is another side to this. The school is so afraid of being sued they create lawsuits trying to 'fix' the issue. So he used that excuse to go on a powertrip over a kid. Working on the yearbook... Which makes you think was one of those 4k the principal doing something he shouldnt be?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > your average principal has to check the school policy manual to figure out which leg to put in the trouser first. And then they mess it up half the time anyway.

      So if the manual says to put your left leg in first, and you mess up and put your right leg in first -- exactly what badness happens?

      (If this were the Hokey Pokey then I'd understand how doing this might cause the end of civilization. But for trousers, no.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sycodon ( 149926 )

      It is becoming clearer and clearer every day that our schools are run by absolute morons. You know the kind I'm talking about. They manage to reach their Peter Principal level and proceed to be incompetent in all areas.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:50PM (#49746347)

    Unless photography rights was part of a contract (either student handbook or admission ticket), the principal is smoking crack and has no claim to them.

    That said, the kid is probably a minor and can not enter into binding contracts without parental consent.

  • by teambpsi ( 307527 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:50PM (#49746351) Homepage

    Threats of lawsuits are mostly idle. Call his bluff and see what happens when the ACLU gets involved and crowfunding his defense sends the principal looking for a new job..

    • by countSudoku() ( 1047544 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:58PM (#49746415) Homepage

      Is this "evil student" charging, or making ad revenue, for views of said photos? Is the lighting on campus somehow owned by the school district and they forgot to charge for it? Just have some CS students wipe out the principal's iPhone, and he'll have something more important to do than not understand Fair Use media.

      I'd say put them under a password and then not offer them to the yearbook crew. Everyone copyright your memory! Let's copyright old cigarette butts and empty bags of potato chips! IP is IP!

      • by g0bshiTe ( 596213 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:37PM (#49746753)
        Even if he is selling the photos, I believe copyright says they belong to the photographer.
        • by pr0fessor ( 1940368 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:56PM (#49746885)

          He is a taking a yearbook class, using the schools equipment, and at the end of the year the book will be sold to the students. If the school did it correctly his parents would have signed a consent form giving the school the rights to the work for publication in the yearbook. The question is did they give the school ownership of the copyright like work for hire, exclusive publication rights for a time period, or just nonexclusive rights to publish the work?

          • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @06:20PM (#49747021) Homepage Journal

            He is a taking a yearbook class, using the schools equipment, and at the end of the year the book will be sold to the students. If the school did it correctly his parents would have signed a consent form giving the school the rights to the work for publication in the yearbook. The question is did they give the school ownership of the copyright like work for hire, exclusive publication rights for a time period, or just nonexclusive rights to publish the work?

            From the article:

            In addition, the District’s Board Policy Manual explicitly states “a student shall retain all rights to work created as part of the instruction or using District technology resources.”

    • by taustin ( 171655 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:09PM (#49746495) Homepage Journal

      If you bothered to read the article, or the summary above, you might notice that there's no threat of a lawsuit, only of a suspension. The burden (and expense) of filing a lawsuit would be on the kid (and his parents). And while they might win, odds are, they couldn't possibly hope to recover the $100k+ in legal fees.

      • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:15PM (#49746545)

        there's no threat of a lawsuit, only of a suspension.

        if there is no threat of a lawsuit, which is the only legal mechanism that the school can use to have the pictures taken down, then the school would not have threatened the kid with suspension. The suspension is not a legal relief for the posting of the photographs, a lawsuit is.

      • No but it's bad enough pub for the school board that a legal threat over a suspension for something the student rightfully owns may need to be done.
      • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:39PM (#49746761) Journal

        they couldn't possibly hope to recover the $100k+ in legal fees.

        $100,000? That's just a tiny bit inflated. My legal fees for two felonies were slightly more than $5,000. It's not going to cost six digits to get judicial relief in a circumstance like this. It probably doesn't even get the lawsuit stage, a demand letter sent to the school district and reviewed by their attorney would probably suffice. "Yeah, we're going to lose this one. Wipe the student's record clean, tell him you're sorry, and move on."

        There's plenty of stupidity in the American legal system to make fun of without making stuff up.

        • by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @07:08PM (#49747279)

          they couldn't possibly hope to recover the $100k+ in legal fees.

          $100,000? That's just a tiny bit inflated. My legal fees for two felonies were slightly more than $5,000. It's not going to cost six digits to get judicial relief in a circumstance like this. It probably doesn't even get the lawsuit stage, a demand letter sent to the school district and reviewed by their attorney would probably suffice. "Yeah, we're going to lose this one. Wipe the student's record clean, tell him you're sorry, and move on."

          There's plenty of stupidity in the American legal system to make fun of without making stuff up.

          Were they felonies where you confessed guilt or that were fairly routine? 100K might be a bit inflated, but not necessarily if you were to go all the way to trial... you have civil discovery costs on both sides and over 4000 photos, plus electronics experts on posting, plus the cost of motion practice, plus trial time, plus appeals. It really depends who you get to do the case, but it could certainly go to $30K pretty easily, and $100K under certain circumstances.

          That being said, it's likely 5K before settlement.

        • That was presumably the fee for a private attorney to negotiate a plea bargain. Had you taken it to trial, even lower tier attorneys would set you back 10x that. Either that or you live someplace with really cheap representation.
      • by dcollins117 ( 1267462 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @06:18PM (#49747011)

        As a former troublemaker, I never understood how suspension is a punishment. I considered a three day vacation from school to be supreme good fortune.

        • by drosboro ( 1046516 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @06:34PM (#49747099)
          That’s why many schools now do the “In-School Suspension”. Sit in the principals’ office and work all day on the mounds of homework the teachers send down. Not quite as much fun as the vacation format.
          • That’s why many schools now do the “In-School Suspension”. Sit in the principals’ office and work all day on the mounds of homework the teachers send down. Not quite as much fun as the vacation format.

            I happened to get in school suspension when I was in school 30 years ago. Sat in a classroom with all the other trouble makers and was handed a sheet where all my teachers had written my work load on it. Only then did I realize how little I was actually doing in high school. Each day, only half the classes had anything of substance written for them, including homework, and I was done with that by 10 AM. I spent the rest of the day reading books for English "extra credit" or drawing for art "extra credit" as

        • by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @06:45PM (#49747169)

          As a former troublemaker, I never understood how suspension is a punishment. I considered a three day vacation from school to be supreme good fortune.

          You're, apparently, not the only one and why one of my English teachers got her Ph.D. on the concept of Saturday Suspension in the late-1960s, early-1970s, where you have to go to school on Saturday (or a series of Saturdays) as punishment. I really disliked Dr. Kershes!

          • by slew ( 2918 )

            As a former troublemaker, I never understood how suspension is a punishment. I considered a three day vacation from school to be supreme good fortune.

            You're, apparently, not the only one and why one of my English teachers got her Ph.D. on the concept of Saturday Suspension in the late-1960s, early-1970s, where you have to go to school on Saturday (or a series of Saturdays) as punishment. I really disliked Dr. Kershes!

            Or as in the '80s the movie the "Breakfast Club" (of course not realistic). However, there are some actual real school districts that implement Saturday School [principals.org].

            • As a former troublemaker, I never understood how suspension is a punishment. I considered a three day vacation from school to be supreme good fortune.

              You're, apparently, not the only one and why one of my English teachers got her Ph.D. on the concept of Saturday Suspension in the late-1960s, early-1970s, where you have to go to school on Saturday (or a series of Saturdays) as punishment. I really disliked Dr. Kershes!

              Or as in the '80s the movie the "Breakfast Club" (of course not realistic). However, there are some actual real school districts that implement Saturday School [principals.org].

              What? Did you think Dr. Kershes's idea (and Ph.D. from the late 60s, early 70s) wasn't implemented by the 1980s? I met the hag in 1983 and Saturday Suspension was alive and well in northern Virginia by then. I know, I had her for 6th grade English and after spending a Saturday in detention (which I had never heard of as an option before then) found out a week or two later that it was her dissertation that more-or-less created the practice. The Breakfast Club hadn't begun principle photography when Saturday

    • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:13PM (#49746531)

      Threats of lawsuits are mostly idle. Call his bluff and see what happens when the ACLU gets involved and crowfunding his defense sends the principal looking for a new job..

      Don't call his bluff.

      A principal has all kinds of power over your life as a student. Litigation takes time. And a principal can easily destroy your chances of getting into college or tarnish your record (before litigation can straighten everything out)

      Get a school board parent on your side, preferably someone with a law degree, or married to someone with a law degree. Or barring that, find a regular parent at your school with a law degree. The principal won't refuse to talk to a parent, especially someone who appears neutral and who appears to know what he's talking about.

      If the principal still doesn't want to listen to reason, I suppose the student could file an injunction to prevent retaliatory actions against him by the Principal, but that should really be his last resort. These types of misunderstandings usually work themselves out by getting enough parents on your side, without ever needing to go to court.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by FranTaylor ( 164577 )

        A principal has all kinds of power over your life as a student. Litigation takes time. And a principal can easily destroy your chances of getting into college or tarnish your record (before litigation can straighten everything out)

        So presumably college admissions people don't read the internet and they don't watch the news? Someone who is hiring a journalist will not bother to check out the journalist's online reputation? Really? If a school administrator succeeds in doing what you say, the public overwhelmingly favors the student's position and the buzz on facebook and other social media will be inevitable. Whether you agree or not, your internet profile is an indelible part of your "permanent record" and will be factored into

      • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:28PM (#49746651)

        Take the pictures down; repost them all the day that the diploma is received.

      • college educations are overrated anyway.
  • .... I mean Texas.

  • Streisand Effect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:53PM (#49746361) Journal

    Dear Principal,

    Do you really want to bring this kind of publicity to you and the school you're representing? I'm pretty sure that you won't be able to handle the backlash, and you might actually have to resign or ... get fired.

    Unless you have a Board adopted policy, predating the photographs, you're in a really tough position.

    Sincerely,
    The Internet Community.

    • Re:Streisand Effect (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:58PM (#49746421)

      Go ahead and let them know:

      http://fmhs.lisd.net/apps/staf... [lisd.net]

      Lail, Sonya Principal

      lailsk@lisd.net 469-713-5192

      • TO: lailsk@lisd.net
        FROM: me

        SUBJECT: Really?

        I mean, really now?
  • Most professional sports teams copyright their games. Even tweeting the score can get you in trouble. I guess this is no different. I'm not sure why the IRS would be involved though. Do they handle copyright enforcement?
    • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:06PM (#49746475)

      Most professional sports teams copyright their games. Even tweeting the score can get you in trouble. I guess this is no different.

      can we count the differences?

      professional sports teams play in private settings where access is limited to ticket holders

      professional sports teams are paid for their work, they have signed contracts explicitly detailing their rights to their likeness in photographs and other media

      high school sports teams play in public settings where anyone is free to view and take pictures

      high school athletes are not paid for their work, they have not signed any contractual agreements governing the distribution of their likeness in photographs

      if joe sports reporter is free to take pictures for the newspaper

      if the parents are free to take photos of their own children

      then surely the students are free to take pictures

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:18PM (#49746575)

        Incorrect. The game is played on posted grounds. The school charges an admission fee to the game. Many Texas schools have agreements with local TV/Radio Stations for broadcast rights. The public school in Texas that my son attends states right in the school handbook that photos of students taken on school property require a release from the students parent before being published in a public forum.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:17PM (#49746567)

      Most professional sports teams copyright their games. Even tweeting the score can get you in trouble.

      Only if you're a player or party to an agreement that prohibits tweeting the score.

      They only own copyright to the media they produce.

  • by SpeedBump0619 ( 324581 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @04:55PM (#49746383)

    Well, he clearly owns the copyright on the photographs, so if anyone wants to contest that they are SOL. The privacy concern is legitimate if and only if the pictures were taken in an area where there was an expectation of privacy. A sporting event with people in the stands cheering certainly doesn't seem like a private event...

    • by taustin ( 171655 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:10PM (#49746501) Homepage Journal

      Particularly if they do not post - and enforce - a general prohibition against photography by everyone else, including the press.

    • by rastos1 ( 601318 )

      Well, he clearly owns the copyright on the photographs

      How can you say that when Olympic Committee clearly gives an opposite example?

      • because olympic events are privately events held by private entities on private property (leased for the event counts as private property)

        everyone who participates in the olympics, athletes, press, etc. signs a contractual agreement that limits their rights

        public high school students, have not signed any contractual agreements, are not able to sign any such agreement, and besides, they play on public property and the games are usually quite visible from the public sidewalk around the school, so there is no

      • The Olympics are a special case. They have a very special version of copyright law carved out via international treaty. Its not really a fair comparison.
  • by ichthus ( 72442 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:01PM (#49746443) Homepage
    The article isn't clear on this, and I'm too lazy to google the school, but it looks like this is a taxpayer-funded, public school. And, the sporting events look an awful lot like public performances. No privacy violation and, since the school is not [supposed to be] a for-profit corporation, no rights can be claimed on the photos.
    • Wait what? Can a lawyer chime in on this? I don't think it works like that. Just because some group isn't for profit, or is part of the government surely doesn't limit their ability to hold copyright. Now a more important question is did he take the photos during school time? That's typically how it works, if you're on the clock for someone else then they own the copyright. If this was a weekend sporting event and he was just along to watch then the school doesn't have a leg to stand on.

      All of this is besid

      • That's typically how it works, if you're on the clock for someone else then they own the copyright.

        When you are "on the clock" it is because you have a contractual agreement with your employer.

        High school students do not have a contractual agreement with the school, and since they are not 18, they are unable to consent to a contractual agreement.

  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter@t e d a t a .net.eg> on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:02PM (#49746449) Journal

    This guy would be -any- yearbook adviser's dream to have. Look at his photos...they're incredible. He gets in close to his subject, captures the action vividly, and makes very good use of lighting. And for a sophomore? Simply amazing.

    This district is handling the situation all wrong. Regardless of whether or not they can or cannot make a claim to the ownership of the photos, they should be lifting this young man up for the talent he has and putting him on a pedestal. Enter him into national photography competitions. Get national recognition for his work, and put the trophies in your trophy case. And make him proud of his talent. He deserves it.

    Suing him? Simply ridiculous.

    • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

      It makes you wonder if they've had that opinion from their own advisor, and realised they might have to pay the student to be able to use the photos in their yearbook - so they try to bully him into a deal to use the photos for free. Threaten first, to frighten him, then back off with a new deal - "You sign the yearbook publication rights over to us, and we'll forget about the lawsuit"

    • Insanity by officials in Texas seems like an ever repeating issue. Why is this principal still in his job and why has the kid not sued the principal into the next universe? Kids getting threatened like that is a huge violation of their rights.
    • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:31PM (#49746681)

      Get national recognition for his work

      In one sense (although they will ultimately lose to their own bosses) they have done him a huge favor and his work is now a national discussion and is being seen by someone who will snap this kid up. I wish him the best, he's a great talent.

    • This guy would be -any- yearbook adviser's dream to have. Look at his photos...they're incredible. He gets in close to his subject, captures the action vividly, and makes very good use of lighting. And for a sophomore? Simply amazing.

      This district is handling the situation all wrong. Regardless of whether or not they can or cannot make a claim to the ownership of the photos, they should be lifting this young man up for the talent he has and putting him on a pedestal. Enter him into national photography competitions. Get national recognition for his work, and put the trophies in your trophy case. And make him proud of his talent. He deserves it.

      Suing him? Simply ridiculous.

      As a result of the school's actions, the kid is in fact up on a pedestal and getting national attention.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Thursday May 21, 2015 @05:17PM (#49746571) Journal

    I'm sick to death of these apparatchiki pretending to be educators, throwing their "respeck mah authoritah!" tantrums. I really hope that this kid refuses any settlement that lets that asshole principal stay on the public payroll.

    -jcr

  • UNLESS...all of the pictures are of school sports events, where there is no expectation of privacy.

    This is why I think that intellectual property needs to be recast as an individual right of the actual creator of work, as specified in Art. 1 Section 8. Copyrights and patents should not be any more fungible than your right to free speech is. Shadowy "rights holders" with legal teams have no business owning IP created by others. You want to make money off IP, then maintain a contractual relationship with the

  • He'll win, according to copyright the photographer owns the rights to the photos.
  • One more reminder that thoughtproperty, for right or wrong, simply isn't sustainable.

    This reality will only become more evident as time passes, not counting the leaps that new techs cause.
  • I have read the article and the associated Flickr post by the kid being the target of the school. The article features some of the photos; they are breathtaking. This kid got a knack for it, I tell'ya!

    Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/... [flickr.com]

    The kid started to sell the pictures to parents, having confirmed with his teacher that he indeed held copyright to the pictures. Apparently the school did not take lightly to him earning money using school equipment and first incorrectly claimed that they owned the
  • "All pictures, videos, and accounts of the game are prohibited" even though that would never stand up in court and probably illegal to say in the first place.
  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Thursday May 21, 2015 @07:09PM (#49747289)

    The principal doesn't know what he's talking about and needs to study law, or hire a lawyer. The student created the art and is the copyright holder. That is the law. The kid should sue the principal and the school for trying to violate his rights, etc. Opportunity knocks.

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