Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Three Lessons to Learn from the $9.2M Copyright Ruling Against Houston ISD

Thanks to an email from Jay Schwermer over the weekend I learned about a federal court's ruling against Houston ISD for violating the copyright of a small company called DynaStudy that sells study guides. You can read a good summary of the ruling including the $9.2 million in damages awarded to DynaStudy in this Houston Chronicle article. World IP Review also has a short overview of the case.

The short version of the case is that teachers in the district were photocopying and redistributing copyrighted study guides without permission of DynaStudy and continued to do so even after DynaStudy raised concerns to the school district. According to World IP Review's article, the district tried to make a Fair Use claim regarding use of four of the copyrighted works, but the court ruled against the claims.

Three Lessons to Learn from This Case
1. When you purchase a workbook, a study guide, a video, a webinar, or other creative work you are often purchasing a license for your personal use and not a license to redistribute that work to other people including colleagues. Read the fine print and check with the creator before redistributing a work.

2. Fair Use may not cover as much as you think it does. Simply saying, "I'm making copies for an educational purpose" isn't sufficient for a Fair Use claim. If that was the case we'd just purchase one copy of a textbook then run off photocopies of the pages we needed for our students. There are many factors to consider in determining if reproduction and redistribution of a copyrighted work qualifies for a Fair Use exemption. Stanford University has some excellent resources about Fair Use.

3. Teachers and students need more education about copyright. I shared the Houston Chronicle article on Facebook and Twitter yesterday afternoon. There were quite a few replies from teachers along the lines of "more training is needed about copyright" and "I see this too often in my school." One person even Tweeted me say that in 22 years in the profession no one had talked to her about copyright and copying materials.

An Introduction to Copyright for Teachers
While I am not an attorney, over the last ten years I have spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with websites (including school websites) that have committed various levels of copyright infringement of my work. My friend Dr. Beth Holland has spent a lot of time addressing this topic in school settings. That's why we hosted and recording a free webinar about copyright for teachers. You can view the recording of that webinar in its entirety on my YouTube channel or as embedded below.