Rights For Student Journalists Under Debate

Three years ago, Anthony Mazur, a student photographer at Flower Mound High School in Texas, was selling some of the 4000 photographs he took for the school yearbook. These were school sports photos taken of students at the school he attended. When his school administration found out about his Flickr page (which people can use to purchase pictures), he was immediately ordered to take the page down or face in-school suspension and be banned from all extracurricular activities.

Today, Mazur is in a legal battle with the Lewisville Independent School District over the exclusive ownership of these photos. Mazur argues that he was the one who snapped the photos, and therefore they should be his; the school argues that the photos are their property, and Mazur, then, does not have a right to sell them.

This situation leads to the debate on journalist rights. Typically, the person who captures the photograph is the author or creator of the photograph, similar to how a journalist takes credit for writing an article. This person sometimes has ownership of the photograph, while other times, the employer or institution that this person works for claims these photographs to be their property.

Sarah Brouillard, who is on the editorial board for The Lion’s Roar, has her own opinion on the case.

“It really depends on all those little details, like was the camera his? Was the camera the school’s? Was it all on school property, or was it just of the students?” Brouillard explains. “I think that in this situation, if he was the one who took the pictures and he was not being paid by the school, then he should win the case because the school had no part in that.”

She goes on to say, “I think that journalists should have the ownership rights of their work when they use their own camera and own materials to snap their own photos. Even if you were working for a school, the school isn’t paying you to do so, so therefore, I think they are rightfully your photos.”

Kristen Laliberte, who is currently in Broadcast Journalism and runs the Lion’s Roar website, agrees with Brouillard.

“Journalists should be accountable for their work and be able to be accountable for their work because it is their work,” Laliberte states.

Laliberte also comments on having contracts that states specific ownership rights. “If the institution that they are employed by has something within their contract specifically stating that they take credit for their work, I guess that is how it has to be,” Laliberte says. “There is definitely a grey area there that needs to be looked at but I think it may be right to get credit for your own work, especially in the land of the free.”

It is important for student journalists to understand what their rights are when working with photography under another individual or institution. These rights should be clearly stated, and journalists should be given the terms ahead of time.

If there is no clear agreement or the photographer is not aware of their rights, serious conflicts may occur, as they did in Anthony Mazur’s case.

“The journalist needs to know ahead of time what they’re agreeing to,” says Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, “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.”

The entire Anthony Mazur situation could have been avoided had the school administration made the terms to their agreement more clear to the students. It is just as important for students, and all journalists for that matter, to know what they are signing up for when they are working for someone else.