Copyright – What can we do?

By Khushi Pasquale

When are we violating German copyright law? What materials can I use to put a course together for my students? Can I embed a YouTube video on my wiki?

These were among the questions that formed the background of an on-site and remote workshop co-sponsored by IATEFL BESIG, Learning Technologies SIG and Munich English Language Teachers Association (MELTA).

As the ELTABB satellite we gathered at the Berlin School of English to participate in the webinar. Jillian Carr provided coffee and the space and Anne Hodgson brought along the equipment – laptops, speakers, and a projector. Anne also functioned as moderator of our discussions relaying our questions and reactions to Munich. We were a small group of four, but that didn’t hold us back, many of our discussions were quite charged. There was considerable experience among us. There wasn’t one of us who hadn’t copied an article, or parts of a course book, or downloaded a video from YouTube, or taken a picture off the web. And we all wanted to know: Were we going to jail?

The workshop was divided roughly in three parts:

  1. What can’t we do?
  2. What can we do?
  3. What should we be doing? Where do we need to be heading?

Experts were either live in Munich or brought in by satellite and each gave a short intro to their perspective. They were:

  • Matt Firth: legal perspective – German law (countries may vary)
  • Jeremy Day: materials writer and course book editor
  • Marjorie Rosenberg: course book writer
  • Murdo MacPhail: Cornelsen publisher
  • Maja Sirola: Managing Editor at Business Spotlight
  • Cleve Miller: Founder and Managing Director of english360
  • Sue Lyon-Jones: writer, multimedia author, teaching with technology

Before the workshop took place, participants were asked to complete a survey of how they used materials and to describe situations for which they needed clarification. The workshop administrators made sure that these and spontaneous questions were answered by the panel.

We were all quite amazed and annoyed to hear that almost everything we’ve been doing is illegal. If you haven’t created the content yourself, you are probably violating copyright. Before you can confidently hit the “copy” button, you have to be sure that:

  • it’s for your private, non-commercial use
  • your use of it does not deprive the author/creator of income
  • it’s been created by you or it’s material specifically created for sharing
  • you’ve read the “Terms of Agreement” and are abiding by them (no YouTube downloads)
  • you’re using less than 12% or less than 20 pages (good for courses at VHS)
  • you’re using a hyperlink rather than embedding content
  • you’ve taken the idea (a great game format) but not taken the content (vocab., etc.)

Maja Sirola was particularly insistent in saying that Business Spotlight materials are not intended to be copied and brought into the classroom. And this includes digital as well as paper versions of the magazine. Her view seemed to contradict what many of us have heard from Ian McMaster and raised quite a fury of reaction. But it’s true.

And from certain perspectives, you can also understand this. Authors put in an enormous amount of hours, they don’t get paid well, and don’t earn unless books are sold. We could sympathize with the materials developers as individuals. The publishers are in the same position but keep churning out new course books. Now they understand that no course book can do the trick as we customize our courses to meet individual needs. They’re beginning to recognize and address the challenges and limitations facing special interest trainers.

One of the calm, soothing, and positive voices in the discussion was Cleve Miller. He founded english360 around just this problem. English360 is a bank of material. Teachers can add their own material and take material. The idea is that trainers can put together a course using english360 material. Then students get charged for the packets their trainers have put together. Those contributing authors who want to get paid, get paid when students buy the packets. Other authors freely share their material.

It was very clear that authors, publishers, and developers do not want to bring every 15 euro an hour freelancer and educator to court. Lawsuits concentrate on big fish not little fish.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start changing our habits. All of the publishers and Business Spotlight too, have on-line areas specifically designed to offer free, downloadable, copiable, bring-in-the-class-able material. This is the material we should use. And rather than giving your students a news article, think about giving your students a link to the news article. Write up your own questions or exercises to go along with the article. Then you are on sure legal ground. There are materials that everyone can use in creative commons areas. You’ll find free materials on sites like; eltpics; capl; english360, and many others. Below you’ll find a long list of websites recommended by the panelists. Take the time and start researching them. And the next time anyone asks if you want to help put together open source grammar material – respond with an overwhelming YES!

Selected websites recommended by the presenters for free use:

Creative Commons Licenses
Creating a CC license is easy
Creative Commons in the Classroom: Use, Share, Remix (presentation)
Creative Commons in the Classroom: Use, Share, Remix
Sue Lyon-Jones: Copyright, Plagiarism and Digital Literacy
Spartan Guide

Sandy Millin: How to Join in with eltpics

Flickr Creative Commons

Self-published online resources:
Culturally Authentic Pictoral Lexicon (CAPL)
Vicki Hollett: Simple English Videos
(summary on
Lingle online
Sean Banville: Breaking News English/ Business English
Sean Banville’s free ESL materials

Blended learning platform:
English 360

Publishers’ supplementary materials online:
CUP Professional English Online/ Business Advantage
CUP Dynamic Presentations
CUP Translegal
CUP Business Advantage
CUP Engineering
CUP Nursing

Cornelsen First Choice

Cornelsen Key
Cornelsen A New Start
Cornelsen Business English for Beginners
Cornelsen Basis for Business
Cornelsen Up to Speed
Cornelsen Career Express