Civil Liberties

This is Why High School Sucks for so Many Kids: 16 Yr Old Photog Threatened by Admin for Selling Pics

Texas' Flower Mound HS opens news fronts on the war on students and on photography.


Aahlad Madireddy

For centuries now, school has produced an ever-enlarging literature of contempt and hate by those of us (read: all of us) unlucky enough to attend K-12 education. I'm betting that Socrates outdoor classrooms were kind of a drag, but certainly from Herman Hesse's Beneath the Wheel to Catcher in the Rye to Blood and Guts in High School to Pink Floyd's The Wall to Frank Portman's King Dork books, the message that school is filled with petty tyrants (both adult and student variety) is based on many people's everyday experience.

Here's a good example of why so many of us disliked school even if we dig edumication.

Via the Twitter feed of Lizbuddie comes the story of Anthony Mazur, a 16-year-old student at Texas' Flower Mound High School. A photographer for the yearbook, Mazur took pictures of athletes and other students and then posted them on a Flickr account where he sold some of them to parents. As it happens, according to his school district's policy, there's no issue with that and Mazur apparently owns the the copyright to work he produces.

Cue administrative outrage:

Back in March, Mazur says he was called into FMHS Assistant Principal Jeffrey Brown's office, where he saw that Brown had his website pulled up on a computer there. He said that Brown was angry at him, and told him that posting the pictures online was illegal, and violated copyright. According to Mazur, Brown also worked the angle (contrary to the policy listed above) that the camera belonged to the district. When Mazur argued that the copyright belonged to him, he says that Brown changed his tune and said that it violated student privacy. Brown allegedly told Mazur at the time that a parent had complained.

Mazur alleged that Brown told him in a coercive tone "I'm just asking you to take the website down, I'm not asking you to return any money." Mazur said he assumed Brown meant the school, with regards to returning money. Mazur said Brown told him that he "wouldn't report [Mazur] to the IRS" over the money he earned from selling the photos. Brown told Mazur that he was issuing an "administrative directive" to take the photos down. At this point, Mazur said he requested that his parent be brought into the discussion.

The school said that a student had complained and posting pictures violated privacy concerns. But that's not what the parents of Mazur were told:

After the meeting, the Mazurs said they received a written administrative directive ordering him to take the pictures down. Len Mazur said the reasoning listed on the directive was not related to privacy concerns, but "because he posted with the intention to profit". The Mazur's would not say how much money, even in general terms, that Anthony had earned from selling his photos. But Anthony said that his customers were all parents of the students in the photos, buying the digital photo for their own use. "It doesn't matter whether he sold one or a million pictures," said Len Mazur, who insisted that it was the principle of applying the law correctly that was important.

It turns out that the school's "acceptable use policy" (AUP) doesn't clearly apply to the situation at hand. The Lewisville Texan Journal has a wide-ranging account of the mess (which is ongoing) and has posted damning documents of the school's bullying tactics. The school district's communications person hasn't gotten back to folks with pertinent information.

Hass declined to answer our followup questions about how the AUP applied to the situation, since his work was related to a class project (yearbook), and since photographs taken at public events have no legal expectation of privacy, or whether Brown threatened him with expulsion, confiscating money, or reporting him to the IRS. 

Anthony Mazur has since bought his own camera and is snapping away. His Twitter feed is here.

Read the whole story, including the school's AUP and the memo it sent Mazur's parents full of "directives" to be followed forthwith.

And then try to re-imagine school as a place that is not the equivalent of a minimum-security prison (attendance is mandatory!) but is instead actually interesting, challenging, and effective in reaching most kids in some sort of individualized way. Sure, school choice has its critics, but maybe the ultimate reason we don't want to destroy the traditional education-as-grim-funless-lockdown is that doing so would rob us of so much artistic expression about just how much school sucks.