Homeschool Copyrights & Wrongs

In recent years, there have been a number of incidences of well-meaning home educators selling or sharing ebooks, educational materials and other resources that have been scanned into digital format or photocopied.

This raised the question of the legalities of ebook sharing and copyright in general. 

Since many homeschoolers are doing their best to educate their children as frugally as possible, sometimes they unknowingly infringe on copyright laws.

Here is some information to help you stay on the right side of copyright laws.

According to Wikipedia, Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator to receive compensation for their intellectual effort.”

Note, the creator of the work (not the purchaser) has the right to determine how the product is used and distributed. You may own a copy of the book, an ebook or a physical book, but you don’t own the copyright. Therefore you may not make copies and share or distribute the work without the copyright owner’s permission.

While we all know that walking into a bookshop and taking a book without paying for it would be theft, few people realise that accepting an unauthorised copy of a book (CD, DVD or software) also amounts to the same thing – theft of intellectual property.

How might homeschoolers be infringing on copyright laws?

  1. Re-using consumable workbooks with multiple children

Some families violate the copyright of their workbooks in the following ways:

  • not letting the children write in the workbook, 
  • using  transparent overlays to protect pages or 
  • making unauthorised copies of workbooks

Some curriculum supplies specifically allow for multiple copies of the student workbooks to be made for the use of the purchaser’s own family, but sharing copies with another family would infringe on this.

Usually copyright law requires that you purchase a new student workbook for each child. If you aren’t sure, contact the distributor, publisher or copyright owner. Some may be willing to make an exception, if you have good reason.

2. Reselling used consumable workbooks

If you have used the workbook, even if it has not been written in, then it may not be re-sold as you have used the content. Only non-consumable text books may be resold or shared. According to an intellectual property attorney, “It is legal to give a workbook to someone else if you only used a few pages, but you should remove the used pages from the book to ensure the new owner does not violate copyright by reusing the pages.”

3.Photocopying or scanning pages to share with others

Although the physical book belongs to the buyer, the intellectual property rights (including the right to control copying) belong to the copyright holder and therefore, unless the copyright specifically allows for copies to be made, this would be illegal.
Usually, you may make copies for your own purposes, such as record-keeping.

4. Sharing paid-for digital products 

While there are many free printables and free ebooks on the internet, sharing a digital product that you bought could be an infringement of copyright. When you buy an ebook, you don’t own the physical book, you have purchased a license to use the data. When you share copies, the material is now being used by two (or more) users, not just the one who paid for it and this is digital piracy.  

As with a physical book, when you no longer have any use for an ebook, you may sell it or give it away, but there are guidelines for doing this legally: 

  • If selling it online, you should notify the author that this is a legal transaction not a pirated ebook being re-sold
  • Once sold, you should remove all traces of the ebook from all your computers and devices
  • Destroy any copies of the ebook – both electronic or hard copies
  • Remove any data associated with the ebook, such as serials, upgrades etc.

5. Downloading copyrighted materials from pirate websites

If you download materials which are not free promotional products, but products which you know are usually sold by the publisher, you are stealing intellectual property.

If  you are ever in doubt, check the copyright in the front of the book or contact the publishers or author /s and get clarification from them.

Supporting Homeschoolers

When you purchase a homegrown, homeschool curriculum, you are not just buying a book, you are paying for someone’s expertise and hours of labour and research, for graphic designers and layout artists, for marketing and advertising to get that product out into the market. 

Most of the time, you are supporting a small home-based business that supports a home educating family or two, like Footprints on Our Land. Some of them have grown to bigger organizations, but that is because of the loyal support of families and that’s why they are still in business, producing products that you want to use.

If you can’t afford a specific product or if you are not happy with the limitations of the copyright, then search online for an acceptable alternative. There are a growing number of sites offering free educational products and services with low overhead costs. This way, you can be more frugal but avoid being guilty of copyright crime!

Stop and think about your actions.