It is my great great pleasure to present a guest post by a man who needs no introduction. A teacher, teacher trainer, think, writer, presenter, supporter, ELT guru…his titles are endless. To some he is a mystic figure who inspires them to develop their teaching, to others the creater of amazingly high quality blog posts that always ring bells and give you something to think about for weeks and months.
I give you…the one….the only….Anthony Gaughan…
BREAKING THE LAW IN THE LANGUAGE CLASSROOM
Do you consider yourself a criminal? You probably don’t but chances are good that you are in fact one.
It’s not your fault, in a way. You couldn’t help it: you just grew up in an immoral environment, fell in with the wrong crowd early on in your career and ended up breaking the law before you really knew what you were doing.
To find out if this allegation applies to you, answer this simple questionnaire about your life as a teacher:
1) Have you ever photocopied material from a coursebook to use in class?
2) Have you ever typed up material from a coursebook in order to make a more attractive worksheet for your learners?
3) Have you ever taken images that you found via Google to use in class?
4) Have you ever played a section of a movie or TV show for your learners in class?
5) Have you ever shown content from You Tube (such as movie trailers) to your learners in class?
6) Have you ever copied a news article from a newspaper website or the BBC for reading purposes in class?
7) Have you ever converted coursebook audio to MP3 and stored it on your MP3 player or USB storage device?
If you answered YES to one or more of these questions, it is likely that you have broken copyright law. This would make you a criminal.
Copyright means “copy”, right?
The recent action against ACTA and SOPA (two extremely broad pieces of legislation intended to protect copyright in the USA and the EU respectively, which were both recently voted down in the face of massive protest) serves as a timely reminder that the notion of ownership of content – and the disputed right to make free use of content created by others – is a highly controversial and massively misunderstood area.
People in general and teachers in particular often have no informed idea of what constitutes a breach of copyright in their local jurisdiction – or what penalties could be imposed against them, even if only in theory.
Taking my local context, Germany, as an example, teachers I know regularly break local copyright laws by doing the following:
- Copying material from coursebooks and self-study grammar books for learners
- Using content from these books as the basis of self-made handouts
- Converting audio to MP3 and storing it on their mobile devices
- Showing video material or playing audio material in their classes
In some cases, most teachers know what they are doing is “wrong” but professional norms have led to a tacit belief that it is “the done thing” (the coursebook copying, for example).
In other cases, teachers are simply unaware that what they are doing represents a copyright breach (did you know that if you make multiple printouts for distribution of an article from the Guardian website, you should request permission from the newspaper, and that for commercial reuse a fee may apply? Read http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/terms-of-service – You do now.)
The copyright law: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixteenmilesofstring/
Schools and organisations are complicit in this criminality – why else do you think that photocopier is so close to a set of shelves containing only one copy of a massive range of coursebooks? The fact that prosecutions are hard to complete and are therefore uncommon does not change the reality that in respect to copyright, our profession is a conspiracy of thieves.
Use some Creative Commons-sense
So if typical teaching environments tend to encourage such law-breaking, how can we change our practice to make sure that – from here on, at least – we teach on the straight and narrow? Here are three basic ideas:
1) Roll your own materials
Get in the habit of mining your own lives and the lives of your learners for the raw material from which texts and tasks can be wrought. By definition, you own the copyright on your own life story, and you might be surprised how much language and skills work can be rooted in the sublime and mundane details of your collective lives. Designing your own material can feel daunting at first but it needn’t be difficult. For inspiration, read this excellent article by Adrian Underhill, which should be tattooed onto the heart of every teacher: http://www.thornburyscott.com/tu/underhill.htm
2) Cry Freedom!
The Internet is not only full of rights reserved content; it is also replete with all kinds of texts and other media that has been freed by is creators for the use and benefit of others. Such material is often found with a so-called Creative Commons licence. Often, this licence gives anyone permission to make use of the work in any way they see fit, including for commercial use. Sometimes, however, some rights are reserved, or commercial use is prohibited. Using the CC search engine at http://search.creativecommons.org/ , you can quickly and easily find content anywhere on the web that offers you the level of freedom you require. ELTpics (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/ ) is an excellent example of a creative commons initiative, where teachers around the world are crowdsourcing visual media (mainly photos) to form a massive archive of images free to use for teaching purposes. All that they ask is you credit the creator and ELTpics, and that you do not use them in commercial publications (classroom use is deemed fair use).
This image is copyrighted: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liako/http://www.flickr.com/photos/liako/3700283914/sizes/s/in/photostream/
3) The Empty Classroom
Contrary to what some teachers think, it is entirely possibly to do a great deal of teaching without any materials whatsoever. Tasks can be delivered orally as dictations, the board can be used, real-life outside the window can serve instead of Google Images… Get in the habit of asking yourself if that handout is necessary. If it isn’t, then do without it and get the job done some other way. This helps avoid copyright breach for the same reason Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe’s morally loose heroine in the novel of the same name, used to pray “Lord save me from temptation lest I steal”: if you avoid creating materials, you will have less cause to fall into temptation to copy that article quickly.
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima…
So there you have it. Even if you have a few illegal photocopies on your conscience (and who doesn’t?), there is no reason to fear that your fate as a classroom criminal is sealed. Square up to your former misdemeanors, ascribe them to a wayward youth, and reclaim your spotless conscience from here on by making more of what you and your learners can bring to lessons, seeking out open content and by going into class more often naked.
But not literally, as that would probably be breaking laws of a different kind.
PS: by embedding this video, uploaded almost certainly without authorisation to You Tube, I am also probably breaking some copyright law. As the song is called Breaking The Law, I could not resist.
And anyway, I never said my copyright conscience was clean.
Copyright Cushion image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opendemocracy/