$1.5M lawsuit after Quebec teacher accused of selling students’ artwork online Parents file

A group of parents has filed a lawsuit against a Montreal-area high school art teacher and his school board after students found their classroom artwork available for purchase on the teacher’s personal website last month.

The parents of 10 young students at Westwood Junior High School in Saint-Lazare, Que., an off-island suburb west of Montreal, filed the lawsuit for $1.575 million, or $155,000 per plaintiff plus punitive damages, against the teacher, Mario Perron, and the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) for alleged copyright infringement.

Edith Liard, one of the parents represented in the lawsuit filed in Quebec’s Superior Court Friday, said the incident turned her daughter off the idea of becoming an artist.

“My daughter loves art, always has been into art, and this year after everything happened, she said to me, ‘I don’t think I’ll do art next year,'” said Liard.”I was surprised because she’s always been artsy at home before school, and she actually picked Westwood because of their art program.”

Joel DeBellefeuille, another parent represented in the lawsuit, says while the amount of money sought might seem outrageous, it represents the scale of intellectual property infringement that took place.

A wesbite featuring drawn portraits of students' faces selling for $118.

“We requested $5,000 per artwork that was infringed,” he said, saying there were 31 pieces of plagiarized merchandise per student.

Statutory damages range from $500 to $20,000 per work under Canada’s Copyright Act.

According to the lawsuit, Perron assigned his 96 students a project called “Creepy Portrait” in January, in which students drew a portrait of a classmate or themselves inspired by the style of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The students submitted their projects in February and were shocked to stumble upon their classroom artwork being sold after finding their art teacher’s website.

On it, the students found their “Creepy Portraits” available for purchase as prints as well as emblazoned on coffee mugs, T-shirts and cellphone cases — with some items listed for as much as $174.

“Here we are in a digital age, where families and parents are there to scrutinize everything that [kids] are looking at … but who would have thought that it should have been the parents scrutinizing the teacher?” DeBellefeuille said.

In addition to the money, the lawsuit states the group of parents is asking for a written apology from Perron, the removal of the students’ artwork from all websites and a report of any sales made in connection with the plagiarized works.

“It will teach them a lesson because they broke our trust. The teacher broke the trust of the parents to teach the students,” said Liard.

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Liard and DeBellefeuille say parents had sent the LBPSB a demand letter making similar requests. DeBellefeuille says it went unacknowledged.

A wesbite featuring drawn portraits of students' faces selling for $118.

The teacher and the school board now have two weeks to respond to the lawsuit. In an email Sunday, the LBPSB told CBC News it does not comment on internal investigations or human resources issues.

Last month, the school board said it was investigating and was taking the allegations seriously.CBC was unable to reach out to the teacher as previous methods of contacting him were unavailable. The teacher did not respond to repeated requests for an interview last month.

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