Who owns your teachers’ lesson plans—the teachers who write them, or the school that employs them? The answer might be more complicated than it seems, especially when teachers begin selling their classroom resources online for extra income.
Of course, teachers and schools have been creating publicly available content for years. As the BBC discovered, one Cambridge school published an entire set of textbooks in the iBook store—but in that case, the revenue went to the school.
Some teachers provide their resources for free. TES Global is one of the most popular online repositories of teacher lesson plans. In addition to more traditional services like social networks segmented by school division and job boards, its “Share My Lesson” (SML) subsidiary allows teachers to search and download lesson plans created by other teachers. Its popularity is undeniable, with millions of downloads every week.
Another site, TeachersPayTeachers.com, allows teachers—including private-independent school instructors!—to set a price tag on their downloadable lesson plans. Prices can range from a few bucks for a basic lesson to hundreds of dollars for an entire curriculum.
Teachers, the logic goes, are already creating the content for their “day jobs” in the classroom. Selling their lesson plans and resources allows them extra income without added effort.
However, they may not own those materials.
According to the National Education Association’s general counsel, Cynthia Chmielewski, the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 stipulates that any resources created by teachers specifically for their jobs are classified as “works for hire” created by teachers, which means that the school owns these resources. The school, then, would determine whether the materials should be released to the public for any price tag—and collect all income derived from their sales.
(The Copyright Act only applies to those materials that were intended for use in the classroom, however. A teacher can create teaching materials outside of what’s required for his or her work, intended “for publication” and use by other teachers.)
In light of the income to be found in such sales, private-independent schools might consider selling their classroom materials to other interested parties. On the other hand, giving teachers the rights to the curricula and resources they create could build goodwill within the ranks of your teachers, as well as provide them with a second revenue stream that doesn’t require picking up a second job.
Regardless of whether your school sells the materials created to teach your students or allows your teachers to offer them for extra income, it would be wise to consult your lawyer to determine what your current teaching contracts permit and how any changes could be made to future agreements. With the summer months approaching, now would be a great time to make any sort of updates to your school's handbook and policies regarding curriculum ownership!
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Additional ISM resources:
Private School News Vol. 9 No. 3 A New Publication About Greening Your Curriculum
Private School News Vol. 13 No. 9 Written by the Victors: AP History Exam Overhaul and Curriculum Responses
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 35 No. 3 The 21st Century School: Curriculum and Technology
I&P Vol. 38 No. 12 Tuition Increases and Faculty Compensation