Monday, November 16, 2009

Can Teachers Copyright Their Lesson Plans, Syllabi?

The short answer appears to be yes.

Teachers have long claimed a copyright over their works - although demonstrating that their works are a totally unique and original creation is an argument sometimes stretched to its limits. This applies to teachers claiming a copyright over their lesson plans, professors over their syllabi, as well as all of them over their lectures.

Now, as Slashdot reports, the issue is becoming more controversial.

Thousands of teachers are using websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and We Are Teachers to cash in on a commodity they used to give away, selling lesson plans online for exercises as simple as M&M sorting and as sophisticated as Shakespeare. While some of this extra money is going to buy books and classroom supplies, the new teacher-entrepreneurs are also spending it on dinners out, mortgage payments, credit card bills, vacation travel and even home renovation, raising questions over who owns material developed for public school classrooms."

This comes on the heels of another story where a professor sued one of those professional note-taking businesses near campus claiming that lecture notes are illegal since they are derivative works of the professor’s copyrighted lectures.

Meanwhile, check out this brief dialogue related to claiming copyright over course syllabi.

Everyone needs to catch their breath and take a step back and relax. Yes, it makes sense that if a teacher truly creates something that is unique and original, they should be able to claim a copyright over it. However, some of these claims go way too far. For instance, when a teacher submits their lesson plans, it is a function of their job working for a school. They are an employed laborer, and as such, their employer has certain rights as well (not to mention everyone who pays tuition, including taxpayers). Furthermore, the idea that taking lecture notes is a type of copyright infringement goes against everything we believe about education systems and the learning process. What's next, schools having to pay royalties every time they teach the ABCs in kindergarten?

All of this screams of the need for legal copyright reform in this country. But until then, it would sure be nice if teachers and professors returned to more collegial practices, sharing and helping each other in the best interests of their students.

Actually, let's remember that the overwhelming majority do.


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