[UPDATE: See this February 20, 2018 post for welcome developments to this story.]


Always. Read. The. Terms.

That’s the ‘digital citizenship’ lesson that an 8th grade middle school student from New York recently learned (“How a kid cartoonist avoided Scholastic’s digital sharecropping trap“) when she decided to submit her artwork for a Scholastic Art & Writing Award, the “nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7–12.” In its most recent year of operation, students like Sasha Matthews submitted more than 330,000 works of visual art and writing to the awards program, often with the express encouragement of their schools and teachers.

“Congratulations! You just lost your copyright” (c) Sasha Matthews/Rumble Comics @rumblecomics, 2018. Posted with permission.

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers surely doesn’t expect students (or their parents or teachers, who must both also sign students’ award applications) to actually read the Terms of Participation, because they are nothing if not draconian:

How are these terms remotely acceptable? Whose interests are being served by appropriating student work like this? Why are teachers and schools complicit? Why does it take an 8th grade student to call the question?

Here’s the thing, though.

I suspect that this practice is not at all uncommon. How many other programs and services that solicit or make use of student work claim ownership of that work? (One immediately comes to mind.)

Amidst all the conversations about the importance of imparting information literacy and ‘digital citizenship’ skills to students, isn’t it time that we help them turn a more critical eye to the intellectual property and privacy provisions of commercial terms of service?

My hat is off to Ms. Matthews. And, be sure to read her first-person account on Boing Boing#DoTheRightThingScholastic