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Teachers Pay Teachers is making money off of copyrighted material, and they’re putting it on the responsibility of the teachers who created the material to find it and make sure it turns outright. And that’s what makes me angry,” Reulbach said. “It’s not about me. It’s about a corporation that is making money off of copyrighted material.”
In a statement, Holland said the company “does not wish” to have infringing material on teachers pay teachers lists.
Teachers Pay Teachers, Some Vendors Are Profiting From Stolen Work
Julie Reulbach does not sell resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace where educators can earn money from their lesson plans and class materials. Still, she often sees her work for sale there.
“Every time I check, I find something,” said Reulbach, a high school math teacher at a private school in Concord, North Carolina, who has published an instructional blog since 2010. She scans Teachers Pay Teachers for work from her blog about once every six months. Her site is under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, so anyone can use, edit, or share her materials, but they’re not supposed to sell them.
It’s happening anyway. And Reulbach’s experience is not unique.
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Nearly a dozen educators who have used or are aware of the site told Education Week that Teachers Pay Teachers has a widespread problem with copyright infringement. Teachers said vendors had copied verbatim passages from their lessons and copied entire pages without permission. While the company provides a mechanism for reporting violations, it leaves the monitoring to the rights holders themselves.
The stolen labor controversy has also fueled a larger ideological divide in the teaching community: the divide between those who think it’s okay for teachers to earn money for their hard work and those who believe educators should share materials with their colleagues. for free.
In a statement, Teachers Pay Teachers CEO Joe Holland said the company takes the protection of intellectual property very seriously.
“Teachers Pay Teachers strictly prohibits its vendors from posting material that infringes the intellectual property rights of others, and we do not want to have such material on Teachers Pay Teachers,” he said.
But educators and authors say the company should do more to combat what they see as a systemic failure to protect teachers and others who create materials.
They Shouldn’t Sell It
When Reulbach sees vendors trying to make money off the lessons he has created, he approaches them and asks them to remove his materials. “Usually people contact me and say, ‘I’m so sorry,'” and remove the feature from their store, he said.
But earlier this year, he had an argument with a sales teacher that veered into the public sphere. Seeing one of his graphic organizers for sale at a Teachers Pay Teachers store, Reulbach sent a notice to the company’s copyright team and commented on the listing. He also contacted the seller, Theresa Ellington, on Twitter and asked her to remove the product.
The two went back and forth on the social media platform, with Ellington saying that she had reworked the lesson from a Pinterest post and Reulbach maintaining that the resource was a direct copy of hers.
The screenshots Reulbach took of the store spreadsheet are nearly identical to the version in his original blog post, including the same formatting and equations. An image posted with the Ellington product even features a photo of the organizer in Reulbach’s handwriting.
Finally, Ellington, a math teacher, and educational consultant, removed the graphic organizer from her store. But in an interview with Education Week, Ellington said she did not believe the resource infringed Reulbach’s copyright. She said that she made changes to the Pinterest post and sold it so other teachers could have access to the updated version. She (she also said that no one bought her a copy).
Reulbach often finds photos of her work posted on Pinterest, she told Education Week, where teachers can assume the images don’t belong to anyone. “But obviously, if they didn’t create it, they shouldn’t be selling it and trying to make money off of it,” she said.
Other teachers say they also unexpectedly found her work being sold on Teachers Pay Teachers.
When Chicago teacher Tess Raser found out that her sixth-graders would be watching the movie “Black Panther” as her class, she saw an opportunity for a powerful lesson. Raser created a companion curriculum for the film, covering a wide swath of history, social studies, and sociology: African kingdoms, the transatlantic slave trade, Afrofeminism, and Afrofuturism.
She posted the resource online and it went viral. Raser’s work has been featured on the sci-fi and technology site Gizmodo and on the site of Blavity, a media company targeting black millennials. Teaching Tolerance, a social justice and anti-bias program that provides free resources for educators, also highlighted it as recommended reading.
Although access to the Google document with the curriculum was free, Raser asked that those who could pay him do so through Venmo or Cash App, two online payment services. She also posted the resource for sale in her own Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Months later, a friend emailed her: another Teachers Pay Teachers seller had posted a resource with almost identical content to hers, she said. A vendor lesson preview page shows the same objectives around understanding colonialism and a similar image comparison activity.
Raser emailed Teachers Pay Teachers to inform the seller and posted about the incident on Twitter. And although the seller removed the store resource from her, Raser did not feel that the problem had been resolved.
“I was like, okay, well, you still have to compensate me because you’ve been paid for the work I created,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s removed, you shouldn’t have put it in the first place.”
Some of those who have removed their content say they see public pressure as their best recourse.
Reulbach, the North Carolina teacher, said the reporting process through TpT can be slow, and contacting the seller directly sometimes yields a faster result.
But Ellington, whom Reulbach confronted on Twitter, said he felt Reulbach was wrong to handle the incident publicly. “I felt like it was more cyberbullying than legitimately two people, two teachers, two professionals talking, ‘Hey, this is a problem,'” he said.
When Teachers Pay Teachers responded to Reulbach, it was only to say that the company would note Ellington’s violation in its records.
Reulbach’s call on social media had another effect: It generated a flood of tweets from other bloggers who had similar experiences.
Lisa Bejarano, a former high school math teacher who now works for the online graphing calculator company Desmos, was one of these bloggers. Bejarano has seen resources from her blog being sold by other users, but she said fighting stolen work isn’t worth the effort.
She has contacted vendors when friends or colleagues have pointed out similarities to her work, but she does not look for violations.
“Usually as a teacher, you are so busy trying to grade, plan and teach that vigilance is the last priority,” she said.
Investigating a possible violation can also come at a financial cost to teachers. Browsers in Teachers Pay Teachers can only see a small selection of preview pages of resources they haven’t purchased, so it may be necessary to purchase a product to confirm a suspicion that it’s copied from another work, Bejarano said.
“My perspective is always that if that teacher is so desperate for a couple of extra bucks that he needs to go to these lengths, then he has bigger problems that I’m not going to fix,” she said.
The company says it will close the accounts of sellers who are reported multiple times for copyright infringement but did not say how many individual violations it would need to receive against someone before taking this step.
Several teachers argued that Teachers Pay Teachers had no incentive to police the site because the company profits from every lesson sold. You need a 45 percent commission on each lesson purchased from a regular seller and a 20 percent commission on each sale from a “premium” seller, a paid membership level that costs about $60 a year.
“Teachers Pay Teachers is making money off of copyrighted material, and they are putting it on the responsibility of the teachers who created the material to search for it and make sure it turns outright. And that’s what makes me angry,” Reulbach said. “It’s not about me. It’s about a corporation that is making money off of copyrighted material.”
In a statement, Holland said the company “does not wish” to have infringing material on TpT’s list.
Ethics Of Selling Versus Sharing
When Teachers Pay Teachers first started in 2006, it sparked a controversial debate: is it ethical for teachers to charge each other for lessons and resources, or should they share their creations with each other for free?
Teachers Pay Teachers has been heralded as a way for underpaid educators to earn extra money: media coverage has frequently highlighted teachers who have made six-figure earnings.
But TpT’s clients are also teachers, facing similar financial pressures as vendors. Should they really have to pay for the materials needed to do their job?
Raising copyright infringement issues on the platform can trigger a tinderbox in the community of teachers and sellers, Reulbach said. Criticism of the problem, she said, is often confused with criticism of all the teachers who use the site.
“It’s a very, very painful issue for a lot of teachers because some teachers really need teachers to pay teachers to survive,” Reulbach said. And teachers in under-resourced schools rely on the centralized repository for lessons and materials.
As TpT has become popular, online sharing opportunities have also developed: platforms such as BetterLesson and Share My Lesson allow teachers to freely post and download material. There is also a growing sect of teachers who create and use HyperDocs – editable and shareable lessons hosted on Google Docs. The website for that movement is titled “Teachers Give Teachers.”
If the material is good enough to share, it doesn’t make sense to limit teacher and student access by charging a fee, said Kevin Roughton, a middle school social studies teacher in Southern California, who said who has also seen your work. sold on TpT without his permission.
“If my work can help the teacher next door, I’m certainly not going to charge my colleague next door. … I don’t know why all of a sudden if you’re [a teacher in] another county or another state, you’d want to limit student access to that material.”
Roughton posts a blog where he shares the history lessons he creates. Last year, he found a lesson with several lines of text taken verbatim from his materials at a Teachers Pay Teachers store.
He contacted the seller, who acknowledged the similarities and said he may have unconsciously included lines from other resources he had seen online. Then the seller made changes to the product.
“Ideas in the educational community are shared, borrowed, and stolen all the time,” Roughton said. But there is a difference, he said, between “stealing” an idea to use with your own students and stealing work to sell for profit. The former is good instruction, while the latter is at best bad practice and at worst illegal.
For Reulbach, seeing his work behind a paywall feels like a barrier to fairness. “Teachers don’t make a lot of money, and it really saddens me that teachers are paying for something they could get for free,” he said.
Educators say the company should do more: simplify the reporting process, better educate sellers about copyright law and take faster action against those who break the rules.
Roughton, the Southern California teacher, never filed a DMCA takedown notice with the site. He said he knew he created the material, but he wasn’t sure if he needed to do anything to claim the copyright. (He did not do it.)
He was concerned that if his claim was not considered valid, he might get into legal trouble himself. “As a teacher, I thought, it’s just not worth a $5 lesson on a website,” he said.
When users file DMCA notices, they must report each listing separately. Sometimes, Serravallo said, a user will create individual assets that infringe their copyright and then bundle all of those assets into a separate product. In those cases, he must report the package and each individual resource.
“It’s a lot of work for the author to correct something that [someone else] has done wrong,” Serravallo said.