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Central PA high school student's social media page may violate copyright laws

Students using images of CASHS on social media page could be sued
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

As it was reported in the Public Opinion, Chambersburg Area School District (CASD) will be holding meetings with students and teachers to address a problem with student cyber bullying. According to the District's spokesperson,Tammy Stouffer, reports were made from concerned parents that some students created and managed Twitter pages that essentially were used as an electronic means to bully other students. Buddy Chapel, who is the principal at the Chambersburg Area Senior High School (CASHS), determined that these social media slam books interfere with student's abilities to learn and planned to hold two informational meetings at CASHS this week. Due to the snow storm which resulted in the closing of all Chambersburg Area Schools in the district including the senior high school, the assembly that was scheduled today, February 3, would be cancelled. Providing there are no cancellations because of the weather, it is anticipated that tomorrow's assembly would still be held. The purpose of the assembly is to educate the high school students about the districts' policy about bullying, acceptable use of technology on school property, and to encourage online safety. Although the district does not have jurisdiction to intervene in activities in which students engage outside of school property on their own time, Chapel can address the situation as it was determined that the online behavior causes a disruption for students during the school day.

A provision under the Children's Internet Protection Act requires that school districts receiving E-Rate and other government technology funding put policy into place that educates students about internet safety, appropriate online behavior, and cyber bullying awareness. According to an article in PennLive, the Central Dauphin School District initiated policies to address safety on the internet and to educate students about the effects of cyber bullying. Central Dauphin's policy was implemented on August 20, 2012 and qualifying for E-Rate would provide the district up to a $200,000 cost-savings. CASD has a policy that prohibits bullying which includes cyber bullying defined as the following:

"intentional electronic, written, verbal or physical act or series of acts directed at another student or students, which occurs in a school setting and/or outside a school setting, that is severe, persistent or pervasive and has the effect of doing any of the following:

1. Substantial interference with a student’s education.
2. Creation of a threatening environment.
3. Substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school."

In addition to providing informational and educational meetings to the students, CASHS will be more vigilant in their efforts to monitor student's on school property cell phone use. Any students posting negative comments to the Twitter page or any other social media site would be subject to discipline by the school who would have the authority to impose consequences that range from a referral to the school counselor to notifying law enforcement.

Reporters from the Public Opinion conducted a search on Twitter to locate the alleged slam accounts and as of this past Friday only found a page called "CASHS Truth". Apparently, the creators of the more negative pages "CASHS Confessions" and "CASHS Secrets" removed those Twitter pages. On January 31, a new Twitter page titled "CASHSconfessions" was created and managed primarily by a poster known as Anon. The new page has 36 followers and is followed by 34 people. Anon's posts consist primarily of degrading Chapel and other teachers at CASHS along with boasting that they will not get caught on this new page. The heading on the new "CASHSconfessions" page postulates that cyber bullying does not exist and that they will post anything other students post on Followers posted comments to the new page many of which are related to the student's disdain for what they view as limitations on their freedom of speech. Several comments are sexual in nature and demean not only teachers but potentially students as well. While freedom of speech is a fundamental right guaranteed through the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there are limits placed on what one can and cannot say. Anon's posts on February 1st allege that Chapel and another teacher committed sexual acts against him and another student. One may assume these are slam posts made by an angry student simply looking to insult school staff getting revenge for perceived injustice. On the other hand, if the authorities were to take those comments seriously, the principal and teacher could be subject to a criminal investigation. Even if allegations were to be proven false, Anon hides behind an anonymous name and uses a slam site to say whatever he or she wants seemingly without consequences.

Resting on a lot of what-ifs in the former scenario, what can be done in the meantime is within CASHS and the District's control. According to CASD's policy, a student who uses images of the school without first obtaining permission from the School District could be sued for violating copyright laws.

"If an employee, student or Guest creates a blog with their own resources and on their own time, the employee, student or Guest may not violate the privacy rights of employees and students, may not use School District personal and private information/data, images and copyrighted material in their blog, and may not disrupt the School District."

The "CASHSconfessions" Twitter page has two images on their page: one small picture of the front of CASHS and a more prominent one of the Trojan stadium. It is probable to conclude that the images are the property of CASD and doubtful that Anon obtained permission to use the images for their Twitter page. A policy exists stating that any person who uses protected images for their blog may not be disruptive. CASD and CASHS both determined the online Twitter activity to be disruptive behaviors. Those two images alone are enough proof that the CASD could use to file a lawsuit in federal court for copyright infringement against the user known as Anon. CASD not only has the deep pockets needed to file a suit but also the power to push an investigation into discovering the identity of Anon who could be facing not just a fine but also criminal charges. Creating an online personality to blog about one's dissatisfaction with the limitations of free speech at their school could have been handled in a manner that would not involve that type of outcome.

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