Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Teachers Violate Copyright

Quoted in the March THE Journal article “Do the (Copy)right Thing,” Maria Kardick, a Pennsylvania librarian and ReadWriteThink author, explains, “Educators feel no one will sue them because they work for a school and they are exempt.”

I’m sure Kardick is correct. There are cases where teachers and administrators assume that they are exempt, but even the THE Journal article suggests that the underlying reasons for the violations are more complicated. Carol Simpson, who has written a series of books on copyright issues, shares this example in the article:

A school district in Texas purchased a single copy of a high-stakes assessment workbook for each grade level, then sent the copies to the district print shop. The print shop duplicated a copy for each student in the district. The copyright owner found out, and sued the district, alleging $7 million in damages.
Why did that school violate copyright? They were trying to raise test scores. Even Simpson admits in the article, “There is immense pressure on administrators to maintain or raise test scores. If that means pirating test workbooks, then that's what they're going to do.” As Simpson explains, these educators “feel like the ends justify the means.”

What troubles me in all this is that the blame falls on the teachers and administrators rather than where it belongs. If schools received adequate funding, educators could acquire copies of these texts legally. Why is the problem seen as educators disregarding the law instead of as local, state, and federal governments providing inadequate educational resources for students?

The THE Journal article contends with its title that educators should “Do the (Copy)right Thing.” By ignoring copyright regulations, teachers and administrators do the wrong thing, which “sends a terrible message to students.” It’s not that I disagree. Protecting intellectual property rights is important. I’m just not sure which is the worst message to send—it’s okay to copy these texts, or we can’t afford to let you read them.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Finally someone has said what we are all thinking. As teachers, we strive to provide the best materials to meet our students' needs, many times using the money in our own pockets to do so. We cheat because we don't have access to the funding necessary to supply our students with what we know will work for them. No one,and especially not English teachers, wants to deny authors their livlihood. If we did not feel forced to do so, we would choose to be legal every time.

Anonymous said...

Here are a couple of issues that Traci did not mention on her blog that I think should be considered when teachers are thinking of photocopying materials:

1. There was a lot of news last year about plagiarism. People were going to great lengths to prevent students from and acting appalled when students were caught violating copyright. When we teachers don’t respect copyright it does send a bad message.
2. Textbook authors do not grow wealthy on their royalties. I know many textbook authors who make less than teachers, and when we photocopy their materials, they do not get paid. Most (probably all) of us would be upset if we showed up for work everyday, did our job, and did not get paid or only got partially paid.
3. Photocopies are not free! Most schools lease copy machines and pay for those machines per copy. I witnessed a case where a teacher photocopied a workbook for each of her students. The book was 161 pages, and the school paid 7.5 cents per copy, $12.08 per book. The books only cost $10.99 each to purchase.

Anonymous said...

And what about the administrator who reverses the teacher's ruling on plagiarism due to parental pressure and the fact that it was "only one sentence"? What kind of message was sent there?

It may be that there is more of a double standard in education than in a marriage! Raise their scores, but no books for you!

michele said...

Copyright is certainly tricky business and fair use is even worse! But, as teachers, we teach content as well as character. That said, one cannot teach "do as I say, not as I do" without students realizing the fraudulent nature of the statement. I agree with the comment about plagiarism--practice what you preach! Here is the URL for the Copyright Society of the USA: http://www.csusa.org/caw/caw_2006_home.htm You will find lesson plans, articles, and information about copyright, plagiarism, and other ethical issues for classroom teaching/learning.
Additionally, students at NIU, as part of a digital authorship graduate course, have a blog that covers many of these issues as well. Their URL: http://digitalauthorship.blogspot.com/2008/01/welcome.html

michele said...

the end of the digital authorship blog should read:
/2008/01/welcome.html

Jason Courtmanche said...

I'm curious about what others would have to say about teachers plagiarizing from the internet. Seems to me that many of us do this quite a bit, for lesson ideas, lecture notes, study guides, handouts, even plagiarism policies! I'd appreciate hearing from others on this. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So many publishers and learning sites and organizations provide free content. I just shake my head. Infringing copyright is theft, plain and simple. Improving test scores is imperative, but at the price of values and morals? I don't think so. Teachers should teach--put on your thinking caps, kids.

Nikita said...

I don't think rationalizing will make it okay to violate copyright laws. Afterall, don't we teach our students that ends don't always justify the means? And if we aren't teaching our students that, then we've got bigger problems as a society. Surely there is a larger issue of inadequate funding for resources, but imagine if we started robbing grocery stores to give to the poor, would that be alright? NO! So, the issues identified: Lack of resources, inadequate funding, violating copyright laws, all need individual attention and more objectivity! As educators, we can not work to perpetuate society's vices by giving in to cheating.

Traci Gardner said...

Ahh, Nikita, there's a difference between saying why something can happen and saying it's the best possible path. Don't conflate the two.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are paid an annual fee for their services.

Authors are obviously not worthy to be paid by teachers. Authors are good enough to use their brains and put something good together but not good enough to get paid.

So where does that leave the author? In a desperate poor state as no income equals no output.

Come on teachers!

Are you teaching future generations how to be the perfect thief!!!