When I started as a teacher nearly 10 years ago, I had a group of wonderful teachers to indoctrinate and support me as a new teacher. I was given a binder of awesome resources they put together for me with a ton of great ideas and helpful activities and lessons. I was thrilled to have some great resources right at my fingertips—all free! I was ecstatic that I didn’t have to spend my meager teaching income (coming off an even worse income as a waitress) to build my library of resources. I was over the moon when I discovered these generous teachers had spent their time to make me feel welcome with a gift of handouts, worksheets, and pre-built lessons from some great publishers!
It never occurred to me that what I was accepting was actually illegal. To be dramatic, I was thrilled about accepting the illegal paraphernalia. These teachers (and I) had no idea that by giving me this binder full of resources—resources they too had shared amongst themselves—they were giving me someone else’s copyrighted materials. And by sharing, we were really stealing from the publishers.
Who cares, right? These were huge publishers, bathing in their millions of dollars. We were just teachers, spending our own hard-earned money to buy dictionaries for our own classrooms. We were the poor underdogs—they were the evil giants who dictated what we could and could not teach. I truly felt that way, until I began to write my own materials and founded Secondary Solutions.
Once I began to spend hour upon hour writing my own materials, using my own brain and creative juices to produce something I needed, my mindset began to change. At first I was happy to share. But as more and more people were interested in what I had created, they offered to pay me for my work. I soon realized that it made sense to be compensated for those hours I put in—hours away from my family. I copyrighted my work and began Secondary Solutions in 2005. To have someone take my work from me, or expect my work to be given to them for free, began to feel personal.
In 2006, I joined TeachersPayTeachers, which celebrated teacher-authors like me. As the site took off, it became imperative that teachers not share my work. I had legally stamped my work as my own—and was making it my business—as were others who had joined TPT. To learn that someone had posted my work on the Internet, or to have someone buy one copy of a Guide to share throughout a department, like mine had done, was devastating. The face of the publisher had changed. It was now mine—or another teacher’s. It was now the face of the underdog. Someone worked hard to write and create that product. The publisher was now someone who might have been struggling to put dinner on the table, or paying student loans, or trying to pay child support.
I am certainly not trying to make this a sob story. I simply want to make teachers aware. We here at Secondary Solutions send Cease and Desist letters and DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Infringement notices daily to teachers, school districts, and PDF “farm” sites for posting our materials to the public without permission. Sites like Wikispaces seem password protected, but in fact, can be accessed by anyone. Teachers who post products to their own blogs or classroom websites may not realize that these materials can be seen—and downloaded—by anyone with a search engine, including students. Often, a careless but well-intentioned teacher also posts answers! These postings are then “picked up” by PDF farms—websites dedicated to posting PDFs from anywhere and everywhere on the Internet, and the fire spreads, giving access to teachers and students and anyone else, just by quick search.
When a teacher or school buys one copy of each of our 40+ Guides, it is a bittersweet moment, as we want to celebrate a great sale, but are paranoid that yet another department is storing our materials in a library for anyone to use, or are passing our books around for everyone to share. This practice of teachers sharing materials openly, one that has been accepted for years, will eventually put publishers like us and other small, independent teacher-publishers out of business.
But what about fair use? The doctrine of fair use states that educators may use copyrighted materials in their classroom if it falls under a certain criteria. The copyrighted work must be used only for educational purposes, and furthermore, the use of the work cannot interfere with or affect the market of the copyrighted work. The lines of fair use have been blurred for decades. While you can use that snippet of that copyrighted movie in your classroom PowerPoint to teach your students (up to 10% or 3 minutes), it is illegal to post this PowerPoint on YouTube, or to even make copies of this work to share with colleagues in your department. Similarly, when it comes to copyrighted text, you are allowed under fair use to use a portion of a text, making copies for each student in your OWN classroom, but cannot make copies of materials acquired illegally. Translation: that binder of resources I got would not have even fallen under fair use.
We are by no means blind to the sharing that goes on, and are not naïve enough to believe that it will cease—but it still doesn’t make it right. My plea to you, and teachers everywhere, is to make yourself aware of copyright on all materials that you use. Understand the laws: know when you can post on the Internet, when you can make copies, how many copies you can make, and limitations on sharing. We certainly understand budget constraints and are willing to give discounts to schools who purchase multiple copies. We also have deeper discounts available through site licenses. Not all of us are big corporations trying to make the big bucks. Some of us believe in what we do—and want to continue to help teachers and make their lives easier through our products. We want to continue to provide you our quality products, and give you more time actually teaching, rather than creating new materials. All we ask is that we are properly compensated in return for the work we have done, so that we, and all small publishers and teacherpreneurs, can stay in business. That, teachers, is all up to you.