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”