I want to share three stories with you. Three different times in my life when I realized that understanding copyright is a really serious issue, and too important to ignore as we prepare our students to navigate the digital world.
1.) My first year of teaching, a friend of mine was in her college class when another teacher presented her “new” classroom website to the class. It was an exact copy of my classroom website. She had borrowed every last .gif file (it was the early 2000’s afterall) and even the title. She received an “A” becauseher professor said “nobody can prove she copied it.
2.) When I first started making posters, I discovered one evening that one of my originals was on Amazon for sale. I was shocked. I emailed the company and asked them to take it down. Theresponse? “Oh, I’m sorry, we have a very young graphic designer and he didn’t realize it was wrong.”
3.) More recently, I’ve found, more times than I can count, stolen posters for sale on a very popular teacher selling site. I always notify, and typically receive one of a few responses: “I didn’t know it was yours, I got it from Pinterest.” or “I made it myself.” Even though it’s an exact copy.
I have had people insinuate that I should put “Do Not Steal” on my stuff I don’t want copied. I have had teachers tell me, over and over, that they didn’t know it was wrong. I’m not here to make a profit from my posters. I have even had people say, “Well, you need to put your name under the quotes.” I think it’s a bit, um, self-righteous to quote myself in my own art. That’s not how I roll. I consider what I do art, it’s something that I take the time to create, putting a bit of my heart into each one. I know I’m not VanGogh or Monet, but the words I write, the colors I choose, and the layout come from experiences I have had in the classroom. Personal experiences. Just like photographs I take, things I paint, and words I write here on my blog. As corny as that sounds, that’s what hobbies are. We pour ourselves into them. My wish is that other teachers can use the posters in their classrooms to brighten their days. I have everything on my site licensed under Creative Commons Non-Derivative, Non-Commercial, With Attribution. This means you can’t change it. You can’t sell it. You must provide original credit. End of story. It’s free, to be freely given, shared.
I’m not sharing this to be Debby Downer (Saturday Night Live Reference), but I am sharing this for a reason. If you teach, you need to understand the laws. Our students are growing up in a world where intellectual property is going to become more and more of an issue. Would you allow a kid to plagiarize from the internet? Cite Google Images as a source? Paste word for word into their paper without credit? No. No teacher would.
When you are encouraging your students to collaborate with each other, would you allow one kid to “borrow” another kids work and sell it on ebay? I know that sounds crazy. It is crazy. But that is pretty much what’s happening. “I’ll “borrow” this download, I’ll upload it to a site, and I’ll make money off of it.”
So, I’m just not sure why it’s okay. I will tell you that it’s not at all about money to me. In fact, at least once a day I get requests from people who want to use something for a school tshirt, a website banner, or some other thing. I have never said no. I always say, please do and pay it forward. It’s about courtesy, kindness, and personal art that I’ve created. And it being stolen. I would feel the same if you broke into my front door with a credit card in the door and grabbed my art off the wall of my house, took it down thestreet, and I saw you selling it on the corner with your chevron banner celebrating teaching.
And I would pull the car over and politely ask you to take it down, reminding you that kindness, courtesy, and respect is what we should model for kids. And I will continue to do the same. I will share examples, like the ones in this post, in hopes that you will take what I’m saying, not as a whine or a complaint, but as a true statement about thinking before we share, sell, or “recreate” something that we don’t have the right to.
If even one person reads this and realizes that maybe they’ve made a mistake in the past, this was worth it. We all make mistakes. I’m sure years ago I grabbed something from Google images and put it in a presentation and didn’t think twice about it. But then it happened to me. And I realized just how wrong it really is. And I want to do better as a collaborator among educators, and as a model for kids.
Let’s all try to do better.