In my role as a mentor in the homeschooling community, I have observed an increase in recent years of homeschooling families and leaders who underestimate the importance of respecting copyright laws. So, while it can be a delicate subject for some, addressing it in a number of informative venues, such as blogs, articles, and homeschool meetings, is a great way to bring attention to this important matter. Copyright considerations represent a three-fold challenge at the student, teacher, and local leadership levels.
First, students are often not properly taught how to research and/or cite sources for papers that they write. So parents need to be equipped on how to formally teach this often-forgotten skill rather than just assuming their student will intuitively know what steps to take when researching a topic or citing sources. In our modern day of Internet resources, it's all too easy to cut and paste information verbatim rather than take notes, synthesize resources, and summarize properly. Recently in Arizona, the seriousness of plagiarism and its consequences was sharply highlighted when an ASU professor was accused of violating copyright law in more than one resource that he had either published or presented as his own work. Even more so in our culture of social media sharing, students need to understand how to research the root of a source to the original author. Sources that cannot be traced to a reliable source should not be used.
Second, in an effort to be frugal, parents will often photocopy materials for their own family's use rather than purchase a new consumable workbook for a younger sibling who uses or will be using the same curriculum. As a young homeschooler, I didn't realize the problem with this practice until I was educated about it from a fellow homeschooling friend and mentor of mine. Also, out of a desire to be helpful, parents sometimes photocopy materials and distribute them outside of their own family. Some families even share electronic materials that were originally purchased only to be used within their own family but then share it out to others who have not paid for their own copy of the resource. If a family wishes to help another in this way, they should instead purchase a physical copy of the materials and gift it to their friend or simply donate their own original materials to them, assuming that they are done with it and do not retain copies of it. In my role as the AZ State Ambassador for the Home School Foundation, our biggest annual fundraiser is via a new/used curriculum sale. So it is encouraging when other families generously pass on materials that they no longer need for the benefit of others. However, it is discouraging when some donations we receive are of photocopied materials rather than originals and all we can do with them is to recycle them in the trash.
Lastly, state or local support group leaders who are often called upon to formally speak to groups of homeschoolers in various settings can fall into a pattern of presenting information as if it were their own; using the work product and quoted ideas of published authors without properly citing or crediting their sources. This issue can also translate to what such organizations publish on their websites. I have personally experienced such improper use of my copyrighted materials and realize that I am not alone in this issue. So leaders should be sensitive to this potential pitfall and ensure that copyright violations do not occur when attempting to help guide and inform home educators in their community. Any such issues that do arise should be diligently addressed with promptness, courtesy, and integrity. Related to this issue is the emergence of the co-op, where parents share joint teaching responsibilities for a group of homeschooled children. In doing so, parents and co-op leaders need to ensure that participating families purchase the necessary materials and only distribute photocopied pages or multiple copies from an electronic source when the author has expressly given the group permission to do so.
When I mentor moms on choosing and using curriculum, we go through a list of selection criteria I have developed called the "Four C's". This issue of copyright violation is a fifth criteria consideration that I call the "Forgotten C". So my goal here is to encourage homeschoolers to place attention on the problem on a meaningful scale. As home educators, we should all take seriously the importance of complying with the law in every way, including copyright law. Yet is often given minimal attention in the homeschooling community in general. So let's all do our part to honor copyrights within our own homes and also help to educate others about this critical issue!
Can you pass the copyright quiz? http://www.homeschoolcopyright.com/copyright_quiz.html
Other helpful links about copyright laws and guidelines:
Homeschooling since 2000, Carol shares in her blog observations, confessions, and musings that help provide perspective and inspiration for homeschooling moms.