Copyright and the TEFL teacher

I had a thought provoking email from one of the TEFL.net book reviewers last week. When I told them to “not rush the review and try the book out in class as much as they like”, they came back with the original but totally logical reaction “Am I allowed to do that? Is there some kind of waiver from the usual rules on photocopying textbooks?” To which I had to reply, “Not as far as I know, but I can’t imagine the publishers wanting to send out a class set of review copies and they’d soon complain if we slagged the book off without using it in class, so we have to trust that they won’t prosecute us for trying to give their book more publicity.”

This is far from the only ridiculous point of copyright law when it comes to TEFL. Here are some of the things you are probably doing that are strictly against the law unless you especially ask for permission and it is given:

• Photocopying pages from Murphy’s English Grammar in Use or any other self-study book that isn’t marked “Photocopiable” (which means they are all Verboten, as far as I am aware)

• Ditto for textbooks. You can make one copy of one unit, for example to prepare your lessons at home, but you can’t make a class set copy of one page to use in class. You can make one copy and show it to your one to one student, but you can’t give it to them to take away, because that wouldn’t be “personal use”.

• Ditto for books that go with supplementary EFL videos that aren’t marked “photocopiable” (most of them)

• Ditto for any of that material even if it is a section cut out and glued to your own worksheets

• Ditto for any of that material even if you type it out yourself, e.g. tapescripts

• Ditto for scanning any of that material and storing it electronically, e.g. so that you can project it onto an interactive whiteboard (IWB) or screen (although publishers often, but not always, give permission- if you can eventually track down someone you can ask who isn’t too busy to answer)

• Ditto for all the above for any pages of the teacher’s book that are not marked “photocopiable”, e.g. the answer key or tapescripts

• Playing songs in class from CDs you have bought for gapfills etc (but songs on the radio are okay and bizarrely if you buy a DVD of pop videos you can play that through a TV- including with the images off, giving exactly the same effect as using a CD)

• Giving students print outs of the lyrics of songs (although it might be okay if you change them enough, e.g. do a spot the errors and don’t ever type out or give out the corrected version), and so obviously publishing any kind of song lyrics

• Playing movies in class if there is anyone there who isn’t a student, e.g. parents observing the lesson

• Publishing, and also I guess storing electronically and giving to your students, film worksheets that include dialogue from the film

• Playing movies where the “format is changed”, e.g. putting them through a projector onto an IWB, although you can show exactly the same DVD on a TV that is bigger than your IWB for some reason

• Making back up copies of DVDs (it’s okay for tapes, maybe because they can get chewed up)

• Copying CDs onto your hard disk, e.g. so that you can play them through your computer (although publishers often, but not always, give permission- see above for the practical details of managing that)

• Making more than one copy of each original cassette, or even of one track of the cassette, although you can copy each track once onto different cassettes (useful to know?!)

• Reformatting material from the internet in any way, e.g. simplifying a Guardian article and giving your simplified version to your class

• Storing many online articles electronically, e.g. as an article with questions as a Word document

• Quite a lot of selling of ELT materials second hand, although I am not sure how that is supposed to work

• The “grey market”, e.g. a bookseller deciding that the local publisher’s agent is taking the piss with charging as much as they can get away with in each place, and so getting their books from a cheaper country instead

• Quoting even short extracts of books and providing samples of materials for teacher training materials (e.g. “Compare the presentations of the Present Perfect from these two textbooks”, long a standard of teacher training courses and books for the CELTA like Harmer’s Practice of English Teaching, but now leading to pages of copyright notices at the end of each book and hours of pointless labour for some poor office drone to track all the copyright holders down, sometimes for a single sentence).

The last one sounded like me being sympathetic to the publishers, but of course it leads to more expensive (and yet less useable) books for us rather than lower profits for them. Here, though, are the few rules that I think are utterly justifiable:

• Not being able to photocopy an entire book

• Not being able to republish other people’s material, including online

• Not being able to give all your students copies of the class cassette or CD

• Having to include what something is and where it comes from on every photocopied page (something we had been asked to do in London, and actually helped me and the students quite a lot too)

• Not being able to put another cover on a book and sell it

Otherwise, some of the more idiotic rules make me lose any trust in the whole system. The fact that almost every country that developed did so by ignoring copyright law also makes the reason for those illogical rules clear- the people that set up these rules don’t care if they make sense because the only justification is to make as much money as they can get away with, claim as many rights as they can, and to “pull up the ladder” to stop other companies and countries reaching the same level. The fact that Japan, of all places, is one of the least progressive about copyright issues with restricting youtube etc also takes away any idea that there is a moral imperative involved in making sure writers can make a living etc.

For the record, I quite like restrictions as they prompt the limited creativity that I have and anyway tend to write most of my own materials, but I sure wouldn’t slag anyone else off for ignoring the whole thing. And from the other side I think I practice what I preach- see all the free materials in easily ripoffable formats like Word that are on my Worksheets pages here and I allowed OUP and Macmillan to republish some of my stuff without charging a penny. If anyone here is someone working on a market stall in China or Vietnam, if you want to package up a whole book of my worksheets and sell it, then I’d be grateful if you at least printed my name and some links on it, but otherwise you can just keep the couple of hundred quid you might make.

Other less than savoury points:

• CDs cost much more than cassettes ever did, despite being cheaper to produce
• The market for ELT materials is always growing, and yet the rights that the publishers claim and the prices of their products keep going up
• New editions that add nothing to the old edition (and nowadays have even more typos and untested materials) but force everyone to trade up
• The publishers routinely ignore schools that flout almost all of these rules, because they know there would be an outcry and backlash if they tried to prosecute someone and they’d lose a customer for life. That puts the foolish teachers and schools who obey the rules into a disadvantaged position with respect to their direct competitors.
• Some EFL DVDs cost nearly 100 pounds, and they sometimes still expect you to buy a class set of video textbooks to go with it
• Why would a publisher want to stop a school scanning a book to use on an interactive whiteboard? To force us to buy their ridiculously expensive IWB software, perhaps?

More sources on copyright:

The book Bad Samaritans

Google “Copyright for teachers”

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This entry was posted in copyright, ELT publishing, Interactive whiteboard, Materials, Self-study materials, Technology, TEFL, Using authentic texts, video. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Copyright and the TEFL teacher

  1. EFL Geek says:

    Well said. I would have copied and pasted this to my blog, but…

  2. Andy Mallory says:

    I have never seen copyright rules applied in any place I worked. FE colleges had a big anal section in their staff handbook – basically saying it was the teachers who were liable.

    I remember trying to get some magazines to give permission for in class use of their articles with mixed success.

    Nowadays, I totally ignore copyright laws and just try to avoid blatantly ripping off the authors.

    Has anyone heard of a prosecution for copyright breach in the TEFL field? I haven’t.

  3. Leigh Thelmadatter says:

    I think that copyright as we know it is becoming increasingly unenforcable and publishers know it… hence the draconian efforts being made to control even what we do with legal copies of what we have.

    “protection of authors” is the claim publishers make but I think its more self-preservation than anything else. There was a discussion of this at the IATEFL 2009 forum under “Materials” An analogy was made to the music industry, also in a very similar situation with the same claims of protecting the artist made. The thing is that most musicians do not make money off of record sales… only the very top of the heap do. The rest make money off of concerts. For us in education, most of us do not make money with the materials we create (legally or illegally)… the benefit is being a better teachers and hopefully moving up the career ladder some. Best done if people know what you create.

    The answer lies with open source and copyleft practices. With these you use as you please and usually give credit to the original author. While much that is available this way is crap… dont we all know a lot of textbooks are crap too? :D One company pushing this is Flat World Knowledge http://blog.wired.com/business/2008/09/open-source-tex.html specifically for textbooks. No EFL/ESL yet, but its just a matter of time. And its just a matter of time until there is enough good material, well-categorized for teachers to use legally through the Internet.

    Most people I know in most schools do NOT faithfully follow copyright laws 100%. Its just not possible either because the schools cant/wont pay for legal use or teachers are not willing to deprive students of valuable learning experiences. Ill give you an example. Attitude 5 has a lesson on the blues, but the only songs on the Class CD are from the 1920′s or so. If I were an EFL student and heard only those, I would think that the blues were totally culturally irrelevant. I know they are not so I brought in some of my own recordings (ahem!) of more modern blues and blues-influenced music. While students yawned at the class CD stuff, they bobbed their heads (which I playfully call “gringo (American) dancing”) to the newer stuff. Artists, song titles and years were given, not for copyright reasons but rather for educational ones. I might have been illegal here but I dont think I was unethical. Withholding learning experiences from students is unethical.

  4. Alex Case says:

    Someone asking for real life advice on this matter here:

    http://www.tefl.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=3811&p=8854#p8854

  5. loyal says:

    When I read this my heart sunk again. Being a teacher in a non-profeit slum kids ministry I still try to follow the laws I understand. Yet I have found it hard to get permission for every detailed thing. Still have a lot of unanswered questions like Youtube I could not figure out if it was legal to play in a classroom or not. w do I even now what is on there is legally there? There are many good thins to help kids learn. But not always accessible other than the Internet. I ask when I find who to ask. But often wonder am I still not got everyone covered.
    As a teacher I am disappointed the law system has not spelled out what is educationally allowed for a non-lawyer to understand.

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