by Mary Kay Downes
The very nature of a yearbook being the permanent record of the year presents numerous issues which primarily have to do with the permanency of the book. Yearbooks live forever! Often yearbooks are viewed as a public relations tool of the school, and the administration and/or community are reluctant to have any coverage at all which they would deem not supporting a pristine image of the institution.
This leads to self-censorship at best, and prior review or restraint at worst, as well as a myriad of other problems
Yearbook is a paid product compared to regular student media. We have an audience to satisfy, and because of this, we must considering their wants/needs differently than we do with a news website or news magazine because we want them to buy the book to pay the bill and be self-sustaining.
Although we absolutely don’t want to compromise journalism standards just to get students to buy the book, yearbook students are still obligated to cover everything, with accuracy and integrity, even as they’re trying to create a product people want to purchase.
Scenario: Student journalists have just completed their first converged media assignments and are just about ready for publication across the various platforms. Several indicate they think their work is good enough to share with other groups.Can they legally or ethically do that with repercussion?
By Mark Goodman
The question of who owns the copyright of work created for scholastic media is complex, but at some point, advisers need to answer that question. The sooner that is decided, the better for all.
One thing for certain, Mark Goodman, former executive director of the Student Press Law Center and current Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, said it is almost impossible for a school to claim copyright in the works students create.
“Absent a written assignment of rights signed by both student and parent (if the student is a minor),” Goodman said, “students retain the copyright to works they create.”
That’s not because public schools can’t own copyright, he said, it’s because students are not employees and the works they create are not “works for hire.” The fact they may be getting credit for a class does not change that.
If I were advising a student publication about dealing with its copyright ownership issues from this point forward, I would say the best tactic is to have every staff member (and a parent/guardian if they are a minor) sign something at the beginning of the year that says they are assigning the copyright in the works they submit to the publication to THAT PUBLICATION, or giving a permanent license to the student publication to use those works.”
In addition, there are real downsides to a school owning the copyright to student works, Goodman said. For example, if a school owns it, it can control how it is used. That inherently includes extensive censorship rights.
“If I were advising a student publication about dealing with its copyright ownership issues from this point forward,” Goodman said, “I would say the best tactic is to have every staff member (and a parent/guardian if they are a minor) sign something at the beginning of the year that says they are assigning the copyright in the works they submit to the publication to THAT PUBLICATION, or giving a permanent license to the student publication to use those works.”
He said it is possible for an student publication to own a copyright but that doesn’t make it belong to the school.
“Insert in your publication handbook or policy document a statement that states your student publication staff has authority over the copyrights owned by or licensed to the publication,” Goodman said. “If someone ever uses your publication’s contents without permission in violation of the copyright, you’ll have clear authority for asking them to stop.”
If student work is already distributed and others use it without permission, Goodman said he would recommend advisers and students act as if the publication itself owns the copyright, whether there is written documentation or not. A letter to the infringer requesting they take the material down immediately would be appropriate.
Goodman developed a model statement of who owns student works.
Goodman also said the SPLC’s Mike Hiestand wrote an excellent piece on copyright ownership on the SPLC blog .
For additional ownership resources:
• Now that it’s online… is it still mine
• The editors’ checklist (se section of copyright and ownership of work)
• Your questions answered: Ownership of content
• Model yearbook copyright warning
• SPLC model yearbook staff member license
• Prince George’s considers copyright policy that takes ownership of students’ work
• Maryland advisers react to school district’s proposal to control copyright of student work
• Protecting your yearbook: How to register the copyright to prevent piracy
• Registering your yearbook’s copyright (directions)
• Reddit’s press guidelines: Get permission from Reddditors before using their content in a ist
• Handle your yearbook copyright issues before you find the book for sale online
• Principals, advisers and students face misconceptions about who ‘owns’ student work
• Back to school checklist: who owns what?
by Matt Schott August 22, the Washington Post editorial board decided to no longer use the term Redskins in its editorials (I believe it will live on in the sports and news sections).
This is a decision that seems to be pretty roundly lauded, particularly by Native American groups who’ve been fighting for this change for years. And it is a decision to be lauded. Continuing to use a racial epithet as a team name is unacceptable.
However, let’s not get hurt ourselves patting the WaPo editorial board on the back for its decisions. While it is, by far, the most prominent editorial board to refuse to do this (and likely one of the most influential), it is not the first.
No, for that, you would need to travel to Pennsylvania.
Specifically, to Neshaminy High School.
Even more specifically, you’d need to visit with the student editors of The Playwickian, Neshaminy’s student newspaper.
While it is, by far, the most prominent editorial board to refuse to do this (and likely one of the most influential), it is not the first. No, for that, you would need to travel to Pennsylvania. Specifically, to Neshaminy High School.
In a decision that raised the ire of students, their principal and their school board, the editorial board of The Playwickian decided to no longer use the term Redskins (which is the school mascot) more than a year ago. A year.
And for that past year, they’ve been locked in battles with those aforementioned groups, fighting the principal who overturned their ban. The editorial board continued to defy its principal, threatening legal action if the school district continued fighting the ban.
The students’ mettle was tested when a student submitted a letter to the editor using the word, disagreeing with the editorial board’s decision. The editors chose to run it with the word Redskins changed to R——-.
Administrators ordered it to run unedited. The editorial board pulled it, choosing to run white space instead. The timing from the WaPo dovetails nicely with these students’ fight.
While I’d imagine this was announced because the NFL season kicking off in early September, this is also the time of year where students head back to school.
It would be great, as the student editors at Neshaminy headed back to their student newsroom – if the Washington Post, one of the vanguards of American journalism in the last 50 years – would provide a tip of the hat to these student journalists who showed them where the path of right was on this issue.
Perhaps the Post could send a letter to the students on staff, offer some advice or something of that sort. So often in the scholastic journalism classroom, it is students who look to the professionals for ideas and inspiration.
In this case, it’s the professionals who stand on the shoulders of giants. They should acknowledge this.
What’s best for students? We return to that essential question constantly as decision-makers in every realm of education. In the “yearbook yikes” dilemma featured in this month’s Ethical Educator column in School Administrator magazine, the solutions address what may be best for one student but fail to mention what’s best for many others.
Where are the student editors in these discussions?
The opportunity to plan and produce student media is a valuable learning experience from start to finish. The communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking students on a yearbook staff experience continues well beyond the final page submission. Deciding how to handle the altered photo and ethical lapse is an essential piece of their learning.
Because students should be responsible for all content decisions, they also should be accountable to their audience and to each other. If the superintendent takes action to remedy the yearbook error, students are deprived of a major lesson in critical thinking and decision-making skills tied to journalistic standards and civic responsibility.
Ideally, student journalists address those standards and responsibilities long before producing even a single yearbook page by creating publication policies. With guidance and support from a trained journalism teacher, students define and put in writing what they stand for and why. The policy then serves as a guide — a commitment to themselves and their audience — for all future decisions. It includes what they will cover and why as well as how to handle errors, omissions, corrections and more.
If the students involved in the “yearbook yikes” dilemma have no such policy, this is an important lesson for them. Instead of removing students from the solution, administrators should empower them to figure it out and so they learn and grow from the process. As editors identify who was responsible for the altered photo and how to handle it (both internally with consequences and improved staff procedures as well as publicly and with the affected student), they can reevaluate their process and make it right.
Plenty of great resources exist to aid in this process, such as the Model Code of Ethics from the National Scholastic Press Association, which charges student journalists to be accountable with a commitment to admit mistakes and publicize corrections. The Society of Professional Journalists also offers an extensive collection of policies journalism teachers can use with their students in these important discussions. The bottom line is that this dilemma affects many more students than just the one pictured in the yearbook, and administrators should consider the long-term effects as well as the shorter-term needs of addressing a parent complaint.
As a student media adviser, I know firsthand the inaccuracy of Sarah MacKenzie’s claim that “… most yearbooks are already gathering dust on shelves only to be retrieved for class reunions, if at all.” Even months after distribution day, students cart yearbooks to school events, pull them from their backpacks daily, poring over pages together to read stories and carry them on vacations to review the personal memories, photos and details of times passed.
That’s all the more reason student editors should strive to meet journalistic standards and operate with integrity, and absolutely why student editors should be accountable for their decisions, including determining the best solution to this and any other dilemma. With a stronger emphasis on their “why” as a staff, training and support from a qualified adviser and empowerment to solve problems based on their own critical thinking, students learn important lessons and make better decisions.
And that, of course, is what’s best for all students.
Sarah Nichols, MJE, M.Ed
teacher/adviser, Whitney High Student Media
2010 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
vice president, Journalism Education Association