How do Copyright Laws Affect You as a Teacher? As a Seller?

Yesterday I received the "It's Me Again, Margaret" sellers newsletter from Teachers Pay Teachers. The author, Margaret Whisnant, puts out these fabulous newsletters that are chock full of helpful information to new teacher sellers and more experienced ones like me!

One area of the newsletter dealt with copyrights and protecting our work. First, of course was making sure you add the © symbol to all pages of your work. Margaret also suggested that all teachers do periodic Google searches using ©YearTeacherName (ex. ©2003TheTeachingBank). I have always added the © to my work and I have a copyright page on all of my products designating permission for classroom use only. I took Margaret's advice and went one step further and did the Google search. Surprisingly, and unfortunately, I was able to find 9 of my products that were placed on websites and were available for download for free! All of the pages showed the © but the websites and teachers either ignored it or did not fully understand what they were doing. I emailed the teachers that I could get contact information for and respectfully asked them to remove my copyrighted work. I also flagged the pages on certain websites. I reported all the violations to Google Help as Margaret suggested. Hopefully it will be all taken care of soon!

So what does this mean to you as a seller? Take Margaret's advice and do a google search for yourself. Report any violations that you can find! Your work is valuable and meaningful and should not be given out for free. You are an author, no different than someone like J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling goes after people that violate her copyrights and you should do no less! You are just as worthy! Also it is not a bad idea to sell your work in a PDF format only. This makes it more difficult for violators to edit and steal your work.

There was a thread started on the TpT forums regarding the newsletter and copyright issues. Other teachers found, as I did, that their work was being violated. Some found that their files that were offered in a Word format were being edited and their names taken off and the violator's name being placed on the document as the author! The majority found, as I did, that the files were placed on a teacher's or school's website. In this case it is assumed that the work was placed there so that it could be shared with parents and students online, and shared with fellow teachers in their school. Teachers are a generous group and we all know as sellers that our work is passed amongst them and shared. Yes it violates copyright, but for the most part as sellers we know this comes with the territory. The thing with sharing on websites, even your own personal sites, for your classroom is that Google searches pick it up and then it is not only there for your students, parents, and fellow teachers, but for the whole wide world!

What does this mean to you as a teacher? Sadly it means that editable products are going to be harder to come by. It also means that as technology grows and changes you need to be aware of laws of copyright protection and how they apply to you. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that you cannot place copyrighted work on the internet where it can be shared in a google search. That means unless it is a password protected site you cannot place it out there. Is this somewhat inconvenient, yes, but you need to understand that a lot of hard work and creativity went into that product and that teacher is counting on the income to supplement their teacher's salary or it could be their only source of income. By putting their work out their for free, even unknowingly, you are stealing from their livelihood. As teachers we need to be positive, ethical role models for our students. If we ask them not to plagiarize and cheat from the internet, we can't be out there violating fellow teacher's work!

To further protect my work and to educate teachers that are unaware of the way that google searches work I have placed an additional message on my copyright page of all of my products. Fellow teacher entrepreneurs feel free to add it to your products as well:

"Copying any part of this product and placing it on the internet in any form (even a personal/classroom website) is strictly forbidden and is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These items can be picked up in a google search and then shared worldwide for free."

There are a couple different versions that have been written in the TpT forums and those teachers have granted their permission for you to use their wording as well:

Emily @ The Allman Files provided this version:

"The original purchaser of this document is granted permission to copy for teaching purposes only.
If you are NOT the original purchaser, please download the item from my store (www.TeachersPayTeachers/Store/...)  before making any copies.

Redistributing, editing, selling, or posting this item (or any part thereof) on the internet  are all strictly prohibited without first granting permission from the author. Violations are subject to the penalties of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Please contact me if you wish to be granted special permissions!"

Michelle W. provided this wording geared towards free items:

"This item is a free digital download from my TpT store (

As such it is bound by copyright laws and redistributing, editing, selling, or posting this item
(or any part thereof) on the Internet are all strictly prohibited without first gaining permission from the author.

Violations are subject to the penalties of  the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Please contact me if you wish to be granted special permissions! (email address)"

I know that 99.9% of the teachers out there putting items on the internet have no idea that they are making them available to the world. Teachers as a group are generous and honest. We need to watch out for each other, both teachers and teach entrepreneurs, so that we can keep the honestly and integrity in the industry as more and more teachers enter the entrepreneurship field. We have a chance to take the profits from the large publishing companies and put it in the pockets of our fellow teachers. To give teachers the buying and selling power to really bring what is wanted and needed to the classroom! Don't diminish that power by giving it away for free on the internet!

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