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Intellectual Property Complaint
Who should own content created for our children?
I recently received a FOIA response from Illinois District 73 (East Prairie) for a copy of a contract between an Evanston School Board member, Biz Lindsay-Ryan, who is consulting for them. The contract is pretty standard but includes this section on intellectual property, which is cited as why District 73 cannot provide me copies of all materials.
I've seen these clauses in contracts before, and they're not uncommon. For instance, if you are a vendor selling curriculum materials like books or handouts, you want to retain the copyright on those documents. The District is not usually paying you to synthesize that work; instead, they pay for the rights to use the pre-created materials. In addition, these materials are not usually covered under FOIA and are exempt under Section 7(j)(iv) of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.1 For example, here’s how Scholastic, Inc. phrases this section in their contracts.
But what about content that is synthesized as part of a paid contract? These rights should belong to the public body funding this work. These are not grants; they're consulting deals at non-trivial costs, sometimes $350/hour or more. It is disappointing to see public organizations participating in this type of arrangement -- taxpayers subsidizing for-profit intellectual property. It's even more disappointing to see an elected official party to it.
As for the FOIA, I will be challenging this to the Illinois Attorney General. FOIA requesters are not bound by a contract between a district and a consultant, and Illinois law should supersede their private arrangement. Edit: It looks like I may have difficulty accessing copyrighted material via FOIA but I may have the right to inspect the documents.