Own Your Own Work

Education is collaboration.  This point is made whenever a teacher goes looking for materials.  Rarely is there anything new under the pedagogical sun.  Most teachers are all too eager to share their various worksheets, notes and all of the tricks they keep in their bag.  Which only makes it all the more disconcerting when those of us in the business run up against copyright issues that seem silly and ridiculously restrictive. I submit the following anecdote for consideration:  Recently, a friend of a friend of a friend turned me on to the Duke TIP program.  Among other things, the Duke TIP offers curricula for a variety of AP courses, my particular baby (AP Biology) included.  $50 purchases a copy of a curriculum written by a career educator, well practiced in all things AP.  The biology version includes notes, laboratory activities and various projects, created by Mr. Bert Wartski, a public educator in Chapel Hill, NC.

I am a creature of the digital age, and so I like to put most of my materials on-line for students to access.  Being that I am somewhat versed in the field of copyright law concerning education, I wrote a note to Mr. Wartski to ask how he preferred that I credit him on the materials that I planned to post, if indeed he would be gracious enough to let me post his materials at all.  Mr. Wartski was generous and gracious in his response and was more than happy to abide my plans.

Regrettably, I also contacted Duke TIP about my plans.  In response, I received a polite note explaining their preferred guidelines for posting their materials.  Duke TIP was more restrictive in their allowance than Mr. Wartski (the author of the material) had been.  Materials had to be posted on a secure website, only accessible by my students.  In addition, a lengthy disclaimer crediting Duke TIP as copyright holder had to be attached.  No mention of Mr. Wartski was made.

In reply, I explained that I had contacted Mr. Wartski and I briefly explained his requests.  My reply was met with a slightly more stern explanation from Duke TIP that Mr. Wartski had no right to give permissions for the material that he had created.

Let me be clear.  Duke TIP is fully within their rights as copyright holder to dictate whatever permissions they feel fit, provided they are legal.  I have no truck with them in this regard, and they have been more available than most of the copyright holders in educational publishing.  Still, I cannot help but be bothered by the fact that Duke TIP owns copyrights on materials that were created by and credited to a public educator and that furthermore, these copyrights supercede the wishes of the author.  It fundamentally violates the spirit of collaboration that I prize so highly in my career.

I would encourage all educators to be wary of these kinds of situations when trying to publish thier materials.  Any organization that "owns" your work to the point that they become the ultimate arbiter of how that work is used is not an organization that I would choose to work with.  Our work is too important and too precious a use of our time to be frittered away and locked up tight.