The Content Delivery Game Has Changed
I’d like to interrupt our regularly scheduled science awesomeness to briefly talk about an issue near and dear to my heart…copyright. In the last few years Teachers pay Teachers has changed the way that many educators are delivering content in their classrooms. It’s now easier than ever for teachers to find engaging activities which are aligned to their state standards. Schools, teachers, and most importantly students, are feeling the direct impact of lessons which are developed by teachers who have intimate knowledge of the subject matter and how each lesson should be implemented.
Teacher-Authors Are Leading The Way
It’s a unique time in education because educators themselves are driving the distribution of high-quality curriculum. Big publishers are being pushed aside in favor of resources created by teachers. As we all learn this new process together, it’s important to remember a few things about how copyright impacts not only the teacher-authors, but also impacts the future growth of teacher-created resources.
I get to virtually work side-by-side with some of the best teacher-authors in the business. The amount of inspiration and creativity which goes into each of their products continues to amaze me on a daily basis. Some of us are former teachers dedicated to writing curriculum as a full-time career (myself included), while others are classroom teachers who spend their nights and weekends creating engaging activities in order for you to enjoy more of your own free time.
Teachers pay Teachers Products Have Copyrights
Just like your favorite books, music, or software, our products also contain copyrights. Most product licenses on TpT allow the use of the product by ONE teacher and their students. This is a fairly standard practice for curriculum, but the purchasing process of licenses usually happens behind the scenes. When your department or district purchases licenses from a curriculum company they are most likely charged by the number of students or number of teachers using the curriculum. If the entire department is going to be using a resource you have purchased from TpT, then additional product licenses should be purchased. Most teacher-authors have made additional licenses available for 50% off for each additional teacher. You can simply add the additional licenses at checkout or go back and purchase them from My TpT > My Downloads anytime after the initial purchase is made.
Another copyright violation you may not be aware of is that most TpT product licenses do not allow the product to be posted online (intranet or internet) unless it is for the use of your students behind a password enabled login.
What’s the Harm In Sharing With my Department?
It may seem like a completely harmless act to share a resource with the rest of your team, but it’s really no different than pirating a movie or stealing a piece of software from the internet. The copyright grants the creator of the original work the rights to its use and distribution. A copyright is a privilege that any author or creator assumes the responsibility for.
One implication of a copyright violation could be that the author is no longer able to compete in the marketplace and will have to stop creating resources. No one wants that. The vast majority of teacher-authors are simply doing this for the love of creating great curriculum in exchange for a little extra boost to their monthly bank account. For a few bucks a buyer is able to download a high-quality lesson that can be delivered to their class immediately. Buyers also receive the benefit of time saved by not having to create the resource themselves.
Another negative impact is that it hurts the teachers who have spent money on supplemental curriculum for their classroom. I know firsthand the budget of a family living on two teachers salaries. It’s tough. Consider a situation where you have just spent $25 on a couple of great resources only to find out someone in another district has the resource posted online for anyone to access. It would not only be deflating but also feel very unfair.
Most teachers don’t have malicious intent when it comes to copyright violations. Teachers pay Teachers has uniquely positioned itself as the go to resource for teacher created lessons. Let’s all play by the rules and ensure our students continue to receive the best learning experience possible.
How the Internet Is Complicating the Art of Teaching
Educators design lots of lessons and other learning resources, and increasingly they’re being shared online—often free of cost and in ways that are too personalized to be universally applicable.
By Abigail Walthausen
A time-honored nugget of the political stump speech is the anecdote about the teacher who brings breakfast for a hungry student in need, or maybe the one who purchases supplies out-of-pocket for an underfunded classroom. These are sweet stories that build on teachers’ well-deserved reputations for sharing with students, but teachers’ work also thrives on the amount of behind-the-scenes sharing they do with one another. Whether it is a homework assignment, a rubric, or a classroom game, teachers build a lot of their curricula on shared materials, authored and tested by experienced peers.
In my first year teaching, I was saved by the binders upon binders of activities, quizzes, and other tools that seasoned teachers shared with me. I tailored what I found in these treasure troves to fit my own style of teaching and the needs of my specific classes. As the years passed and my larder of teaching materials grew fat, I started sharing digital copies of my tried-and-true materials with newer teachers over Google Drive, where they could easily edit to fit their needs and developing teaching styles. Digital platforms have use beyond just ease of editing, though: They are helping teachers bring their best ideas and materials to audiences much larger than the tight-knit communities of copy rooms and teacher’s lounges. As great assignments grow in their reach, though, it is hard to keep the personalization that individual teachers bring to the table from getting lost in translation.
As educators continue sharing with wider audiences, it will be important to figure out how teacher-generated resources will be received into the world of Open Educational Resources (OERs). According to the Department of Education, all OERs must be three things: digitized, free, and editable. Many commercially produced digital textbooks and resources are licenced for use in only one classroom, school, or district at a time. Digitized historical documents are wonderful assets to the open curriculum, but are rarely editable and therefore hard to loop into a classroom-friendly curriculum. The Google Drive scenario of sharing between colleagues represents an OER ideal on a small scale, but both effectiveness and ethics are become more complicated as teachers try to replicate similar exchanges with a larger district, the wider world, and otherwise for-profit technology giants. When suddenly laboratories of ideas need to take the form of finished products, both personalization and collaboration can get subsumed by ideas like intellectual property and compensation.
On the one hand, I am in love with the open culture of OERs. I write for The Public Domain Review, a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation that brings light to interesting artifacts within the world’s digital libraries. I actively design assignments that mine the incredible resources of digital libraries. And I have had major frustrations in the classroom when I have lead kids through a research project only to find that resources they need are only available for sale or are locked down in subscription only databases. In the world of higher education, JSTOR has caused a lot of controversy by restricting research articles with fees that do not go to benefit the academics that produced them or the universities that have funded them.
The DOE has been an active champion of sharing teacher-generated, commercial, and historical resources freely. On his blog, Andrew Marcinek, the former adviser of Open Education, writes that bringing more teacher-generated resources into OERs is the ideal way to find out what would happen if “we looked within our classrooms for innovative ideas and amplified the voice of educators.” Since the launch of the #GoOpen campaign—an effort to motivate the education community to use open-license materials—the DOE has encouraged school districts to use this sort of resource sharing to broaden horizons within the classroom, carefully examine and reevaluate curricula, and save money on commercially produced educational material. The informational packet released by the DOE suggests that schools wishing to “go open” begin planning a year in advance to bring together all materials needed for a course. A committee would curate items from around the internet as well as assignments, activities, and assessments generated by the district’s own faculty, creating an entire curriculum that would become a part of a districtwide, if not nationwide, cache of available teaching resources.
The popular resource-sharing platform Teachers Pay Teachers, a private company in business since 2006, predates the #GoOpen campaign; although the site has 4 million active users, it is not one of the DOE’s suggested platforms as much of its material comes with a price tag. On the site, teachers upload a mixture of resources that are free to download and ones that are listed for sale, ranging in price from 99 cents for a slideshow or activity worksheet to $40 for an entire unit plan. Individual teachers are generally the shoppers, sometimes paying out-of-pocket, sometimes using school funds allocated for materials. Copyrights on materials can also be pretty guarded: Some teachers sell licenses for the right to re-share materials with colleagues while others offer their work only as un-editable formats like PDF.
When I first signed up for Teachers Pay Teachers back in 2008, I was giddy—not only was the website founded by another New York teacher, Paul Edleman, but it also cast teachers in the role of author rather than drudge for commercial textbooks. Not to mention that it rewarded (both financially and through networking) one of my very favorite parts of teaching: the reflection, research, and return to content that goes into creating materials. A well-honed, engaging assignment, when it is not shared, can feel like a fleeting success as it can really only be used once per class per year.
But then I sat at my desk, trying to open up shop, flipping through countless resources that I was truly proud to teach, and realized that not one of them could be shared without some serious editing. What I hadn’t understood before this tentative jump into the broader sharing economy was that making assignments is so much about personalization. Much of my work already had the flow of lesson plans written into the materials. Grouped lists of students names, references to specific comments in specific discussions, staggered deadlines, page numbers referring to other texts and activities, and regional jokes all littered my materials. Nothing had the gloss of the commercial. For them to be appropriate for a general audience, I had to wipe them down and make them blank slates. Selling material, or even sharing it for that matter—Teachers Pay Teachers requires all sellers to offer at least one free resource—would have been an intensive project. My colleagues kept my binders and Google Drive links, but my shop did not launch.“The fact is, teachers’ work is already bestowed on the American public whether or not it is polished for sale or uploaded” online.
Tracee Orman, an Erie, Illinois, high-school English teacher who creates materials about contemporary books like The Hunger Games, is concerned that the GoOpen campaign’s call for teachers to share resources freely reflects a general misunderstanding among policymakers of the difference between lesson plans and the materials the teacher uses as part of the lesson plans. Teachers write lesson plans to reflect the organization and flow, not the content, of their day-to-day classes; materials, on the other hand, are rich in content and take vastly more time and expertise to generate from scratch. For Orman, writing the two things involves separate skill sets, and asking teachers to share enough material for an entire course without additional compensation imposes a huge burden and sends the message that teacher-authors are not valued on par with textbook authors. While many teachers choose to create their own materials, it has generally been to supplement curriculum rather than design it.
Another popular Teachers Pay Teachers seller, David Rickert, creates hand-illustrated poetry worksheets as a labor of love.* He chooses not to us one of his most popular products, a comic to accompany the text of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” in his classroom. Instead, he prefers to keep the materials he sells and the ones he uses for his own students separate. That is not to say that his materials aren’t classroom ready—he, like Orman and many Teachers Pay Teachers sellers, writes a blog that is full of ideas about best practices for using his resources. Unlike Orman, though, he is enthusiastic about the prospect of the DOE’s #GoOpen campaign. He said he would be interested in creating additional comics if his district were to join the #GoOpen initiative because he’s always looking for new ways to reach more kids. He initially joined Teachers Pay Teachers not for the money, but simply because it is “a great way to get [my] stuff into classrooms, and I wouldn't want to shut that off.”
Although it is unclear how districts and schools looking to adopt an open curriculum will look upon teachers who are already selling their resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, if the #GoOpen campaign is to succeed, it will need a centralized platform where teachers can seek out each other’s work and find community. The Learning Registry is one DOE-endorsed tool that aggregates free education resources. Marcinek, who worked closely with the Learning Registry and the platforms it serves, looks to the music industry for design inspiration, citing playlists as an ideal element to help teachers curate and share quality lessons.
Amazon, currently testing its new education platform, Amazon Inspire, is another company poised to step into this role. The company’s resource-sharing resembles Teachers Pay Teachers and is comprised only of free and openly licensed materials. Rohit Agarwal, Amazon’s director of education, estimates that teachers spend an average of 12 hours a week searching for resources, and he hopes that Amazon Inspire will help to streamline this process. This great goal may be helpful to teachers in the role of consumer, but Amazon has had more difficulty assessing the needs of teachers who create materials. The company has not always recognized that well-honed and polished resources are not just something teachers have lying around ready to share. Amazon Inspire’s rollout showed little regard for the work of educators when it used teacher-generated resources taken from Teachers Pay Teachers without permission. To foster an intellectual community, it is important to respect the creative output of teachers as intellectual property.
There is no right answer to whether teachers should be paid for their materials. The types of work represented on Teachers Pay Teachers span such different uses: There are the rigorous lesson plans on American literature that could make our country a better democracy, the customizable classroom name tags that could improve one second-grader’s day, and the grading rubrics that could give a teacher back an hour of his weekend. The fact is, teachers’ work is already bestowed on the American public whether or not it is polished for sale or uploaded to an OER platform. But whether a teacher decides to share on a micro or a macro level, the choice should be open and judgement free.
*This article originally misspelled David Rickert's last name as Rickets. We regret the error.
On ‘Teachers Pay Teachers,’ Some Sellers Are Profiting From Stolen Work
Julie Reulbach doesn’t sell resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace where educators can make money on their lesson plans and classroom materials. Even so, she often sees her work for sale there.
“Everytime I check, I find something,” said Reulbach, a high school math teacher at a private school in Concord, N.C., who has published an instructional blog since 2010. She scans TpT for work from her blog about once every six months. Her site is under a NonCommercial Creative Commons license, so anyone can use, edit, or share her materials—but they are not supposed to sell them.
It’s happening anyway. And Reulbach’s experience isn’t unique.
Nearly a dozen educators who have used or are knowledgeable about the site told Education Week that TpT has a widespread problem with copyright infringement. Teachers said sellers had lifted passages verbatim from their lessons and copied entire pages without permission. While the company provides a reporting mechanism for infractions, it leaves the policing to the rights holders themselves.
The controversy over stolen work has also fueled a larger ideological rift in the teaching community: the division between those who think it’s fine for teachers to make money off their hard work, and those who believe educators should share materials with their colleagues for free.
In a statement, TpT CEO Joe Holland said that the company takes the protection of intellectual property seriously.
“TpT strictly prohibits its sellers from listing material that infringes on the intellectual property rights of others, and we have no desire to have such material on TpT,” he said.
But educators and authors say the company should be doing more to combat what they see as a systemic failure to protect teachers and others who create materials.
‘They Shouldn’t Be Selling It’
When Reulbach sees sellers attempting to make money off of lessons she’s created, she reaches out to them and asks them to take her materials down. “Usually, people contact me and say, ‘I’m really sorry,’” and remove the resource from their store, she said.
But earlier this year, she got into an argument with a teacher-seller that veered into the public sphere. Seeing one of her graphic organizers for sale in a TpT store, Reulbach filed a notice with the company’s copyright team and commented on the listing. She also reached out to the seller, Theresa Ellington, on Twitter, asking her to remove the product.
The two went back and forth on the social media platform, with Ellington saying that she had reworked the lesson from a Pinterest post and Reulbach maintaining that the resource was a direct copy of hers.
Screenshots Reulbach took of the worksheet from the store are nearly identical to the version in her original blog post, including the same formatting and equations. One picture published with Ellington’s product even shows a photo of the organizer filled out in Reulbach’s handwriting.
Eventually, Ellington, a math teacher and educational consultant, removed the graphic organizer from her store. But in an interview with Education Week, Ellington said she didn’t believe that the resource ever infringed on Reulbach’s copyright. She said she made changes to the Pinterest post and sold it so that other teachers could have access to the updated version. (She also said no one ever actually bought a copy from her.)
Reulbach often finds pictures of her work posted on Pinterest, she told Education Week, where teachers might assume that the images don’t belong to anyone. “But obviously, if they didn’t create it, they shouldn’t be selling it and trying to make money off of it,” she said.
Other teachers say they’ve unexpectedly found their work being sold on TpT as well.
When Chicago teacher Tess Raser found out that her 6th graders would be seeing the movie “Black Panther” as a class, she saw an opportunity for a powerful lesson. Raser created an accompanying curriculum for the movie, covering a wide swath of history, social studies, and sociology: African kingdoms, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Afrofeminism, and Afrofuturism.
She posted the resource online, and it went viral. Raser’s work was featured on the technology and science fiction site Gizmodo and on the site for Blavity, a media company geared to black millenials. Teaching Tolerance, a social justice and anti-bias program that provides free resources for educators, also highlighted it as recommended reading. While access to the Google doc with the curriculum was free, Raser asked that those who could pay her do so via Venmo or the Cash App, two online payment services. She also posted the resource for sale on her own TpT store.
Months later, a friend emailed her—another TpT seller had listed a resource with content almost identical to her own, she said. A preview page from the seller’s lesson shows the same objectives around understanding colonialism and a similar picture-matching activity. Raser emailed TpT to report the seller and posted about the incident on Twitter. And though the seller did remove the resource from her store, Raser didn’t feel that the problem had been resolved.
“I was like, OK, well, you still need to compensate me because you’ve been paid for work that I created,” she said. “I don’t care that it’s deleted—you shouldn’t have put it up in the first place.”
Raser said she left comments on the seller’s other listings asking for payment and emailed the company inquiring about compensation. But TpT told her that beyond removing the resource, there wasn’t anything the company could do. Raser could get a lawyer, the company told her, if she wanted to pursue a case against the seller.
TpT doesn’t arbitrate copyright claims. The company complies with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which updated copyright law to address publication and distribution on the internet. The law gives websites that host third-party content, like TpT, what’s called a “safe harbor.” When sellers on the platform post material that infringes on someone else’s copyright, the company is not held financially liable.
In order to claim this legal protection, TpT has to give copyright holders a way to flag infringing content and have it taken down. Anyone who thinks a TpT seller has listed his or her copyrighted material can submit a DMCA takedown notice with the site. Every product has a “report this resource” option, which leads to an electronic form, or users can also email the company directly.
On its website, TpT says that if it receives a DMCA notice with all of the required information included, it will remove infringing content. The company would not say how many DMCA notices it receives on a yearly basis.
And the burden is on teachers to file infringement complaints—not on TpT to police seller content. TpT doesn’t independently review the content on the site, in part because it’s difficult for the company to know what agreements or licenses individual sellers have. For example, a seller using large, verbatim passages of someone else’s work could be infringing on copyright—or might have permission from the original author to use those sections for commercial purposes.
For Raser, the seller’s silence was especially astonishing, given the subject matter of her materials. “Literally, it’s curriculum on colonization and the legacy of slavery,” she said. It was “ludicrous,” Raser said, that someone would take resources created by a black woman on those topics, pass them off as his or her own, and profit off of them. The seller, who is only identifiable by screenname, did not return several requests for comment.
After Raser commented on the seller’s page asking for compensation, TpT told Raser that it had received reports of her harassing a member of the site. If the company received more of these reports against her, the email read, TpT would suspend or deactivate her account. The seller’s account is still live.
Some who’ve had their content lifted say they see public pressure as their best recourse.
Reulbach, the North Carolina teacher, said the reporting process through TpT can be slow, and contacting the seller directly sometimes yields a faster result.
But Ellington, whom Reulbach confronted on Twitter, said she felt that Reulbach was wrong to handle the incident publicly. “I felt like it was more cyberbullying than legitimately two people, two teachers, two professionals speaking about, ‘Hey, this is an issue,’” she said.
When TpT did respond to Reulbach, it was only to say the company would note Ellington’s infraction in its records.
Reulbach’s social media callout did have another effect: It led to an avalanche of Tweets from other bloggers who’d had similar experiences.
Lisa Bejarano, a former high school math teacher who now works for the online graphing calculator company Desmos, was one of these bloggers. Bejarano has seen resources from her blog sold by other users, but she said it’s not worth the energy for her to fight stolen work. She’s reached out to sellers when similarities to her work have been pointed out to her by friends or colleagues, but she doesn’t go looking for infractions.
“Usually as a teacher, you’re just so busy trying to grade and plan and teach that policing is the last priority,” she said.
Investigating possible infringement can carry a financial cost for teachers, too. Browsers on TpT can only see a small selection of preview pages from resources that they haven’t purchased, so it can be necessary to buy a product to confirm a suspicion that it’s copied from another work, said Bejarano.
“My perspective is always that if that teacher is that desperate to make a couple extra bucks that they need to go to these lengths, then they have bigger issues that I’m not going to fix,” she said.
The company says it will close the accounts of sellers who are reported multiple times for copyright infringement, but wouldn’t say how many individual infractions it would need to receive against someone before taking this step.
Several teachers argued that TpT didn’t have an incentive to police the site, because the company profits off of every lesson sold. It takes a 45 percent commission from every lesson purchased from a regular seller and a 20 percent commission from every sale from a “premium” seller—a paid membership tier that costs about $60 a year.
“Teachers Pay Teachers is making money off of copyrighted material, and they’re putting it on the responsibility of the teachers who created the material to go hunt that down, and make sure it comes off. And that’s what makes me angry,” said Reulbach. “It’s not about me. It’s about a corporation that’s making money off of copyrighted material.”
In a statement, Holland said the company has “no desire” to have material that infringes copyright listed on TpT.
Ethics of Selling vs. Sharing
When TpT first started in 2006, a controversial debate launched along with it: Is it ethical for teachers to charge each other for lessons and resources, or should they share their creations with each other for free?
TpT has been heralded as a way for underpaid educators to make extra money—media coverage has frequently spotlighted teachers who have pulled in six-figure profits.
Tips From a Copyright Expert
Many of the problems on Teachers Pay teachers and similar sites arise simply because there’s confusion around the laws for creating, sharing, and selling intellectual material, including lesson plans and classroom activities.
“People don’t know, and why would they know?” said Carrie Russell, the senior program director for public policy and advocacy at the American Library Association.
For teachers who aren’t sure what their rights are, here are three general tips:
• Copyright protection begins at the point of creation: As soon as a teacher finishes a work, she holds the rights.
• Having the copyright registered with the U.S. Copyright Office will provide evidence to a court that the teacher is the rightful copyright holder if there were ever an infringement case. A teacher can sue without registering her copyright, but she would still need to prove that she was the original author of the work.
• Teachers should consider labeling their work with a copyright symbol, their name, and the date of creation. While this won’t change their legal rights, it could be a deterrent for potential infringers.
But the customers on TpT are also teachers, who are facing financial strains similar to the sellers. Should they really have to pay for the materials needed to do their jobs?
Bringing up issues of copyright infringement on the platform can set off a powder-keg in the teacher-seller community, Reulbach said. Criticism of the problem, she said, is often mistaken for criticism of all teachers who use the site.
“It’s a very, very sore subject for a lot of teachers, because some teachers really do need Teachers Pay Teachers to survive,” Reulbach said. And teachers in underresourced schools rely on the centralized store of lessons and materials.
As TpT has become popular, opportunities for online sharing have also developed—platforms like BetterLesson and Share My Lesson allow teachers to freely post and download material. There’s also a growing sect of teachers who create and use HyperDocs: editable, shareable lessons hosted on Google docs. That movement’s website is titled “Teachers Give Teachers.”
If material is good enough to share, it doesn’t make sense to limit teachers’ and students’ access to it by charging a fee, said Kevin Roughton, a middle school social studies teacher in southern California, who said he’s also seen his work sold on TpT without his permission. “If my work can help the teacher next door, I’m certainly not going to charge my colleague next door. ... I don’t know why, all of the sudden, if it’s [a teacher in] another county or another state, that I’d want to limit students from having access to that material.”
Roughton publishes a blog where he shares the history lessons that he creates. Last year, he found a lesson with several lines of text lifted verbatim from his materials in a TpT store. He contacted the seller, who acknowledged the similarities and said he may have subconsciously included lines from other resources he had seen online. The seller then made changes to the product.
“Ideas in the education community are shared and borrowed and stolen all the time,” Roughton said. But there’s a difference, he said, between “stealing” an idea to use with your own students and stealing work to sell for profit. The former is good instruction, while the latter is at best bad practice—and at worst, illegal.
For Reulbach, seeing her work behind a paywall feels like a barrier to equity. “Teachers don’t make a lot of money, and it just really makes me sad that teachers are paying for something that they could get for free,” she said.
Need for Clarity
Sellers aren’t just lifting resources from individual teachers—they’re taking from commercially published materials as well.
Jennifer Serravallo, who’s written books on teaching reading and writing strategies, is one of the many education authors whose work is popular with TpT sellers. Users create activities inspired by these authors’ work and resources to complement the lessons in their books. Sometimes, though, they also include chunks of these authors’ books, which are protected by copyright.
Searching Serravallo’s name on the site returns more than 100 products, created by other users, that reference her work. Some of them clearly violate copyright, she said—like word-for-word passages lifted from her books—but others she doesn’t flag, like when sellers reference her list of reading goals or the title of one of her books within their product. “I don’t think that’s a problem,” she said. Making these judgment calls can be difficult, and it requires an intimate understanding of her published work, said Serravallo.
Serravallo thinks that a lot of the problems stem from teachers not understanding the ins and outs of copyright law. “The teachers who are making this stuff have always been horrified as soon as they’ve been called out,” said Serravallo, expressing remorse that they’ve violated the work of an author they respect.
“I don’t think there’s malicious intent. I don’t think they’re trying to be sneaky ... I think they, in many cases, just really don’t know that what they’re recreating is a violation. They think it’s just going to be a helpful resource out there.”
The issue is hardly limited to Serravallo’s work. Her publisher, Heinemann, recently updated the copyright language in its books, directly in response to teachers using work from its imprint on TpT and other sites: “We respectfully ask that you do not adapt, re-use, or copy anything on third-party (whether for-profit or not-for-profit) lesson-sharing websites.”
And many teachers don’t realize that they’re generally violating copyright by pulling a photo or image from the internet that they don’t have rights to use.
TpT has a “deep respect for intellectual property rights,” said TpT CEO Holland, in a statement. “To that end, we ask our sellers to certify to the ownership of their resources upon account creation.” Sellers have to re-confirm they’re posting original work each time they upload a new resource. (TpT would not offer public comment beyond the written statement for this story.)
But copyright laws are complex and nuanced, said Serravallo. “As an author, I have learned a lot about this because I try to put stuff in my books, and it’ll get flagged” by the publisher’s permissions department, she said. Even now, after publishing several books, she still is surprised by some of the material the department tells her she can’t use. For a teacher self-publishing content on TpT, navigating those rules without legal counsel would be difficult, said Serravallo.
The company provides several informational resources on copyright and trademark, including a three-part explanation of copyright protections, a quiz, and FAQ sections for sellers and buyers. But teacher-sellers aren’t required to review these resources or demonstrate understanding of copyright protections before they start listing products.
Educators say that the company should be doing more—to simplify the reporting process, to better educate sellers about copyright law, to take swifter action against those who break the rules.
Roughton, the teacher from southern California, never filed a DMCA takedown notice with the site. He said he knew that he had created the material, but he wasn’t sure if he needed to do anything to claim copyright. (He did not.)
He was worried that if his claim weren’t seen as valid he could get in legal trouble himself. “As a teacher, I was like, it’s just not worth it for a $5 lesson on a website,” he said.
When users do file DMCA notices, they have to separately report each listing. Sometimes, said Serravallo, a user will create individual resources that infringe on her copyright, and then bundle all of those resources into another, distinct product. In those cases, she has to report the bundle as well as each individual resource.
“It’s a lot of work for the author to make something right that [someone else has] done wrong,” said Serravallo.
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