Skip to main content

Becoming a Teacher-Author Entrepreneur Step 15 - Copyright Compliance

Don't you just hate it? You're talking with co-workers, blowing off steam really, and you mention some ideas you have, but don't see how you can implement them. Lay out a couple of ideas, everyone is, "wow! That would be great!" But then there's Bob, kind of shooting it down. Until the next staff meeting or training day, when the admin team calls him up to introduce his great idea, or lead a training on this brilliant new thing that HE came up with...and it was your idea. Don't you just hate that?

So do all of the rest of us.

Including the clip artists, font creators, and illustrators. And everyone in the movie and book publishing industry who create covers, posters, animations, and all the other items we love and associate with great media. Too bad there isn't some way to protect our work so others can't take credit for it. Oh, wait. There is. It's called

Copyrighting Your Material

What is a copyright? According to the U.S. Copyright office, a copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects "original works of authorship including (but not limited to) literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture." And the associated images.

So, who can copyright something? Anyone. As long as the material is original, or presented in an original format or method. How? By creating and signing the work, and then adding a date to it. You do not have to have a "Formal" copyright. You don't even have to register it for it to be in effect. That said, it is always a good idea (fine, best practice for all you educator types looking for buzz words...) to place a copyright identification line on your material. Simply place somewhere, usually in the footer, an unobtrusive line that says "Copyright (c) 2020, ELA in Middle School",  or substitute your personal name for your company name. The copyright symbol of a "c" inside a circle is created in Word automatically by typing (c). Where do you place it? At a minimum, on the cover and/or first page of the resource you created. I also place mine at the bottom of every page in the resource in case it gets printed and separated. And it is flattened, embedded and encrypted so that it cannot be removed. Without the use of Whiteout (TM), of course.

Formal copyrights are great, but until you have a large pool of resources that can be combined, it gets expensive at $35 to $65 (USD) per copyright, depending on the type of form. There can also be other special fees.

What Can Be Copyright Protected, and What Cannot Be

There are 3 requirements for something to be eligible for copyright protection: 1) Fixation; 2) Expression; and, 3) Originality.
  1. Fixation means that it has to be recorded in some manner, either on paper or as an audio recording, thereby becoming at least quasi-permanent.
  2. Expression means that you have DONE it; you expressed the original idea in a manner that shows YOU CREATED OR GAVE EXPRESSION TO IT. The IDEA of Mickey Mouse is NOT a protected, copyright-able thing; however, the EXPRESSION of that idea, either in written or pictorial depiction or format, IS. The idea to design a better mousetrap is not protected, but the design of that better mousetrap is.
  3. Originality means that you put together the elements in a unique way. The elements of every Western movie hero ever produced and portrayed are the same; the way John Wayne presented these elements is different from Clint Eastwood's or Sam Elliot's representations. The same for their respective directors, writers and costume designers. So, while the story elements of the young men/teenagers from the wrong side of town coming of age against the injustices and inequities of society are not protected, S. E. Hinton's classic expression of those elements in The Outsiders is.
What cannot be protected by copyright? Titles, short phrases, facts, and utilitarian language. This means that you MAY reference books by title, use short excerpts if you give credit (generally less than a paragraph), facts found ANYWHERE as long as they are commonly accepted and known facts, and directions on how to do something. That's why I am able to use the title of a novel in a study about that novel, such as A Long Walk to Water, Rumble Fish, or Touching Spirit Bear.

Available from
 ELA in Middle School
However, the covers of these novels are not the titles of them. They are separate expressions of the same idea. Therefore, I CANNOT legally use the covers that the publishers of these novels used! And neither can anyone else, unless they have received explicit written permission to do so.

and TheWheelEdu
So what does this all mean? Basically, if you are using any depiction that is recognizable as a specific character, be it Mickey Mouse, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, or Rooster Cogburn, you may not use it. However, you may use the title The Little Mermaid in your resource or product, providing the product or resource is about studying the book or movie.

Potential Consequences of Copyright Infringement

Hopefully, you now have a better, albeit basic, understanding of copyright and copyright protection. If you decide to ignore the protections of copyright, and decide to use that cute little picture of Ariel, Minnie, or Wonder Woman because it is so cute, and everybody does it, and who will care anyway, please beware and be aware. There may well be consequences.

First of all, whether it be Teachers Pay Teachers, Amped Up Learning, The Wheel Edu, Amazon or any other website or platform, if you are infringing and it is brought to the site administrators' attention, they WILL remove it, and possibly kick you off the site. Permanently.

Second, if Disney, J. K. Rowling, Penguin Publishing, Random House, Universal Studios, Ron Leishman, Kimberly Geswein,  or any of the other copyright holders find that you are using their work in violation of the copyright protection (which includes not giving credit in a resource if your purchase Terms of Use required it), they have the right to sue. And believe it or not, many will. Disney has sued teachers for showing "The Little Mermaid" in class without permission, and won. The law allows for real cost loss to profits damages of between $200 and $150,000 PER WORK INFRINGED. Oh, yes, and court costs and legal fees. 

You should understand that just because you found that pic of Mulan on a Pinterest board, that does NOT give you the right to use it, even if the person who owns the board says you can. Unless that person has the last name of Disney. There are MANY images of characters online that you COULD grab, but they are ILLEGAL to use, even if from a "free site". Disney does not give permission to ANYONE or ANY COMPANY to sell the rights to use ANY DISNEY IMAGE. And that goes for all the other publishers out there.

Wow. I think I just heard a whole lot of people say, "Dear, I need to redo some covers on TpT..."


Popular posts from this blog

How Giveaways Build a Business - A Guest Posting by Cortney Gaynes

A Note from Matthew: This post was penned by teacher-author entrepreneur Cortney Gaynes. Cortney's is an amazing story of entrepreneurial growth and success! She first came to my attention by way of our mutual friend and business partner, Gregg Williams, co-founder and CEO of Amped Up Learning . Gregg kept talking to us about the phenomenal success Cortney was having with her store on AUL, TeacherSorce . (Not a typo this time! Its a PUN!)  I had to learn more, so I reached out to her. I asked her if she has a blog, and she said no, she has Palmer, her nine month old daughter, instead! I expected her success to be all social media based, which I am not the best at. According to Cortney, she places the credit on adaptability, building a lemonade stand when the world was handed a bunch of lemons in the form of Covid-19, and - at the heart of it - giveaways. Let me allow her to explain. Cortney's Biography Cortney Gaynes, Teacher-Author Entrepreneur and Palmer's Mom My name is

Welcome and About Us

Welcome to Wandering the Halls of Academia - Teaching and Living Today! Suzanne and Matthew, December 2019 This Blog is about teaching, classroom tips, and living a balanced life of meaning! We will be posting about practices, travel, and products we make for the classroom. Additionally, we will discuss products from other teacher authors. Matthew will be writing and posting some of our posts, while Suzanne will be creating others. We will also have guest bloggers from time to time, and links to other blogs we like or feel you may find interesting! Matthew is a Middle School ELA teacher, leads Professional Development sessions in Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), the integration of online educational platforms in the classroom, and classroom management/CHAMPS. Suzanne has been a substitute teacher, an interventionist in Math and SPED, and holds a degree in Animal Science, with an emphasis on genetics. We are both teacher-authors of educational products

Guest Post: Adding BOOM! Cards (TM) to Your Toolbox by Sarah Renish

Note from Matthew at ELA in Middle School This post was written by Sarah Renish, Teacher and Teacher-Author Entrepreneur. Sarah is the owner of Ratelis Science , which has a storefront on BOOM!Learning  (SM), Amped Up Learning and TpT . We are in a couple of the same Facebook groups, and when I had questions about BOOM! Cards (TM), she was kind enough to teach me! She has since written this post for us all here. Thanks, Sarah!  Boom Learning and Boom Cards are the trademarks of Boom Learning, Inc. Used with Permission. Sarah's Biography Sarah Renish I am a 6-12 science teacher in Wisconsin that has over 20 years of teaching experience working with students from diverse backgrounds, including at-risk, ELL, SPED, and Gifted & Talented students. I am actively involved in developing and teaching professional development opportunities related to science instructional best practices. In addition to my regular work for district curriculum committees and numerous profess