Posts Tagged copyright infringement

5 Ways to Swipe a Free Play

Copyright notice on play scriptsI’m sure you remember those big FBI warnings at the beginning of our old VHS movies. Aren’t you glad the TpT products we buy for our classroom don’t have one slapped over the cover page? Well, maybe they should. Though we may be perfectly honest, totally committed educators, we might still be tromping all over somebody’s hard-earned copyright. That’s right. This month’s post is one of those in which I have to be a curmudgeon and complain about copyright infringement. But stop! Don’t click away. Here are five ways you (yes, you!) may be violating copyright laws:

#1 You Post Stuff on Teacher Websites

I commend efforts to engage students by posting class content online, but we have an ethical obligation to make sure only our own students can access it. Search engines crawl sites like Weebly and Wikispaces, which means anyone can locate, download, and print the copyrighted material posted there. A safer bet is to use Google Classroom and set such docs as “View Only.”

#2 You Pay for 20 Subscriptions but Print 25 Copies

Let’s say you subscribe to a classroom magazine such as the ever-wonderful Storyworks, but because you know students will spindle, tear, mark-on, and lose scripts when they’re working on a play, you, like many teachers, print photocopies. That’s fair use—as long as you print just twenty. A subscription to a classroom magazine is like a software license. Twenty subscriptions means only twenty copies are being used at any given time. Consider too how that might apply to posting content online.

Note that my ReadAloudPlays.com branded plays come with full reproduction rights. The original purchaser is licensed to print a full class set for use in his or her classroom. That means when you buy just one copy—usually for around three or four bucks—all your students can use it. You can’t give copies away to colleagues, post it online for anyone to download, or, as one unscrupulous fellah tried to do, put your name on it and try to sell it on TpT, but every one of your students can access it.

#3 You Adapt a Story as a Play

For those of you who like to write your own plays, that’s great! Nothing precludes you from picking up a copy of James & the Giant Peach and creating a play.

Unless you post it for the public.

Because you don’t own the rights to Roald Dahl’s stories, Dr. Seuss’ rhymes, or Charlotte’s Web, you can’t legally offer an adaptation to the masses–even for free. To post a play based on Harry Potter, you must either have permission from J.K. Rowling or wait until the story is in the public domain. In the case of Harry, that won’t happen in any of our lifetimes. In the case of James & the Giant Peach, you’ve got another forty years or so.

Can students create plays of their favorite picture book? Absolutely. They just can’t post them online.

What if you download somebody’s adaption of James & the Giant Peach from TpT? Well, you’re supporting someone who is infringing on Roald Dahl’s copyright. Sophie Dahl may be well-to-do, but her father earned that copyright. It should be respected.

Here again I get to promote my ReadAloudPlays.com brand. All my plays are either original (such as my history plays), adapted from works in the public domain (such as classic short stories), or originally published through agreements between the author/publisher and my publishers at Scope or Storyworks. Note, however, that the original graphics and layout appearing in Scholastic magazines belongs to the illustrator and/or company. Consequently, when I repackage a play I have to re-create all that from scratch using public domain images and graphics I’ve purchased.

#4 You Perform a Play for an Audience

Most professionally-written plays require you purchase performance rights, which can range into the hundreds of dollars. To stage a showing of The Lion King without purchasing rights is infringement–even if you don’t charge admission.

I periodically get requests from small theater companies requesting performance rights for my ReadAloudPlays.com scripts. (Typically I donate such rights to non-profit groups.) Teachers, though, needn’t worry about requesting permission at all. I include performance rights with all my plays.

#5 A Nasty Bonus

The Web seems to have blurred the lines of acceptable use, so these days copyright issues pop up all the time. My most recent Internet review turned up several innocent violations—teachers who posted a play on their webpage so that students could pre-read it, for example. But I also found a couple malicious violations in which “dark web” organizations are posting my content illegally and using that content to infect user computers with malware and adware. If you’re unconcerned about copyright, you can get free copies of my “Birth-mark” and “Tell-Tale Heart” plays. But be warned. Cloudfront.net is an Amazon-related site that I’m told is frequently pirated. That big red button that says, “Download Now”? Well, my play won’t be the only thing you’ll be getting for free. Better to buy my plays—and anyone’s plays, for that matter—from respected sites such as TeachersPayTeachers and Scholastic Teacher Store.

Those of you who respect copyright and download only legal copies of material, thank you! Happy directing!

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Are the Feds Coming After You?

Click here to go to Mack's TpT StoreI’ve heard horror stories. There’s one about a federal official who caught a band teacher photocopying sheet music. The school was fined $10,000 and the band director lost his job.  True story? I don’t know, but it’s evident from the FBI warning at the beginning of that Bill Nye video I show every year that copyright infringement is serious stuff.

This got personal for me when the criminal underworld started pirating my plays, apparently in an attempt to turn a fast buck (which is ironic, given that I have yet to make a fast buck from writing these things).  A thoughtful reader contacted me about it after discovering a site where my play, Stolen Childhoods, could be illegally downloaded.

I immediately went into sleuth mode, quickly tracking down the offending site, fully prepared to fire off a cease and desist e-mail or maybe even call the 1-800 number on that Bill Nye video.  I quickly discerned, though, that the “criminal” was merely a middle school language arts teacher who’d posted my play online for her students to read as a homework assignment. Seemed innocent enough to me.  Here was a hard-working middle school teacher using my work as the centerpiece of what looked like a pretty significant unit of study about child labor during the Great Depression.  I was flattered. And yet, this did indeed represent a copyright infringement.

I’m a great fan of technology. I use it extensively with my own students, and I want to encourage others to do the same. But I suspect we could all use a little tutoring when it comes to copyright infringement.  If you want to post one of my plays on your classroom website, go for it. However, please toss in a few safeguards. Consider password protecting your site, adding a watermark to the posted-PDF, and at the very least, including a highly-visible warning that ONLY your students have legal authorization to download (maybe one showing a big badge like they have on the FBI warning!).

Another reader recently asked me if I’d develop a play based on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s THE Great American Novel as well as a significant player in the high school literary canon. Frankly, I’d love to craft a play around it.

But I can’t. It would be an infringement. Because To Kill a Mockingbird is still under copyright, without the permission of the copyright owner, I don’t have the right to sell any such adapt ion. This makes me wonder about a host of other reader’s theater scripts  for sale on TpT. From Charlie Brown to Charlotte’s Web to Dr. Seuss…I wonder just how “legal” such products really are.

Know that every play I produce has been legally adapted. What’s more, most all of them have previously appeared in Scope and Storyworks, meaning my wonderful editors and diligent fact-checkers at Scholastic have gone over them with a magnifying glass and a copy of the Chicago Elements of Style.

All my plays also come with reproduction and performance rights. The original purchaser is licensed to print a full classroom set for use in his or her classroom once each year. And that same class is licensed to perform it, whether in the gym or the Performing Arts Center over on Ethel Merman Boulevard. That’s not the case with scripts appearing in most drama magazines or with plays available from theater publishers. Their terms require you to purchase expensive performance rights—even if you’re an underfunded school.

I didn’t ask that middle school teacher to remove my play from her site. I don’t want to discourage her from using my play or technology, and for the most part, her classroom site is difficult to find. My hope is that, like the reader who reported it to me, my customers will respect the copyright notice clearly printed on each play and purchase legal versions. To those of you who respect copyright, thank you!

Happy directing.

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