Penn State Newspaper Photographers Facing Off with School Over “Contract” Stripping Them of Rights to Their Work


There’s a bit of a controversy going on between a massive and well-known university in the United States and their student journalists.

Photo by Matthias P.R. Redding from Pexels.

Namely, it seems that Penn State wants its student volunteers that work for the school’s newspaper to sign over any rights they might have to their work. This includes the photographers that work for the paper.

As you can imagine, more than a few people in our community are interested in this story and for good reason. After all, you know how much we love to follow court cases and anything and everything involving copyrights on photos.

But it isn’t just the contract that is getting attention. Delivered to the students on November 18, 2020, they had two days to agree to its terms and sign or else they would not be part of the newspaper in 2021, PetaPixel reports.

The contract reads in part: “I hereby authorize Collegian, Inc. and its officers, agents, and employees, to photograph, record, film, or videotape me or to use media that I submit. …I hereby assign to Collegian, Inc. all rights, title, and interest, including copyright, in and to any and all such photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures, or videos, and I hereby irrevocably authorize Collegian Inc., its officers, agents, and employees, without limitation, to reproduce, copy, sell, exhibit, publish or distribute in any medium now known or later developed, any and all such any and all such photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures, or videos in perpetuity for the purposes expressed above.”

You can read the full contract here.

PetaPixel reports that the students then contacted the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) as well as the Student Press Law Center, both of which advised them to not sign the contract. After some back and forth, a second contract was delivered to be completed by December 23rd. Yet this iteration also contained language that didn’t exactly return the copyright to the students that produced the work yet retained it then released it to the public domain after 15 months except for in commercial usage licensing rights which will be retained by Collegian, Inc.

So far no one has signed a contract and PetaPixel reports that Collegian, Inc., isn’t really interested in negotiations moving forward. You can read the article here as well as the student’s second response at this link.

What do you think of Penn State’s contract for student photojournalists? Do they have a right to their work or does it belong to the institution for which they are “volunteers?” Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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About Author

Kehl is our staff photography news writer since 2017 and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing and you can get to know him better here and follow him on Insta.

If I was an unpaid volunteer then I would not sign the contract and issue Collegian Inc with a set of my own terms and conditions. I would assume the role of an independent photographer and treat them as a client for my work, albeit unpaid. My terms would include retention of my copyright whilst granting them a limited non-exclusive licence.
In reality, i suspect that Penn State will just let their current volunteers go and replace them with new folk willing to sign the contract.

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