Even schools don't care about copyright

If you've been following my writings here on Pixiq and elsewhere, you'll have noticed that I have a bit of a bee under my bonnet about copyright. I've written articles about how infringing on my copyright harms me, and how me having an RSS feed here on Pixiq isn't an excuse to nick my articles.

It's something I'm passionate about, but obviously, it goes beyond that, too: I'm hoping that in the middle of all of this ranting and raving, that my fellow photographers learn something, and that the people who are infringing on copyright understand what the big deal is.

It was a dark and stormy night...

Rewind, for a moment, if you would, back to March 7th 2011. I am alerted by a piece of software I have written that there is a possible copyright infringement, and consequentially, I find a website kept by a teacher at a secondary school in Canada.

On his site, he has pasted a PDF for a photography club final assignment. Whilst I do think that was very good idea, he also copied a whole article from my site. Namely: Giving a Good Photo Critique. Whilst I'm flattered that he thinks it's a good article, I can't help but wonder: Since this is posted to a website, presumably the students have access to the internet, so just a link would suffice, right?

So, 160-something days ago, I send an e-mail to the school, including an invoice for them to pay, for unauthorised use of my content. I also sent the e-mail as a telefax, because I'm aware that e-mails sometimes get lost in school bureaucracies.

What did I expect to happen?

Following my e-mail and fax, I expected them to get back to me and apologise for using my content by mistake, and pleading with me over low school budgets etc, and a promise that it would never happen again.

In return, I would tell them that I thought copyright infringement by a secondary school is a serious matter. And then I would probably not enforce the invoice, because ultimately, any secondary school that has a photography club sounds like they are the good guys, right?

Well, it appears that isn't the case; Instead of getting a response, a whole lot of nothing happened.

A skipping record?

So, on April 9th, I sent another e-mail, this time including the principal, the teacher who copied the content, and the general information e-mail address for the school. The e-mail was met with a wall of deafening silence.

On 21 April, I sent another e-mail, this time to all of the above plus the Vice Principal, the two acting vice principals, and the person who is listed as the Accounts support staff person. Again, no reply whatsoever.

So, on May 10th, I sent them a letter (for the attention of the principal), pointing out the multiple times I had tried to contact them by e-mail, letter, and fax, which, again, was ignored.

On June 29th, I sent them yet another letter (again, with a copy by telefax), including the statement that "I trust that the lack of communication from yourselves is an oversight, and not an indication that [the school] is failing to take copyright seriously."

However, it doesn't seem that this particular secondary school gives a monkey's banana about copyright infringements: Even after sending three letters, four e-mails, and four faxes, all of which were addressed to the teacher in question and four different principals, I have heard exactly nothing back. Not a peep of apology, not a single query about my invoice, and no attempt to take the content down - it's been nearly half a year, but the PDF file in question is still on the website.

What is the message this sends to the kids?

On their own website, the school's principal writes that the school is all about Responsibility and Respect. However, I would say that not responding to eleven separate attempts to make the school aware of a copyright infringement doesn't particularly scream "respect" or, indeed, "responsibility" to me.

So, by not taking responsibility and acting in a simple matter of copyright infringement, what is the message the school is sending to their more than 1,000 students? That copyright isn't worth caring about, perhaps? Or that you don't have to deal with an issue when it crops up? Or maybe that if you ignore a problem for long enough, that it'll eventually go away?

I don't know; but I do know that I'm rather deeply unimpressed. I've already discovered that the police doesn't understand copyright, and now it turns out that schools don't really care that much either.

No wonder that a lot of us who are making a living by creating - whether it's photography or the written word - are struggling.

Finally - closure.

Soon after this article went live, the school's new principal called me, and we exchanged some e-mails. I also received an e-mail from the teacher who originally posted the material. He says he passed the invoice and complaint on, and assumed that somebody else had dealt with it, citing that the school is 'very busy' and that dealing with my complaint was 'not a high priority'.

Nonetheless, on September 12th, the school paid my invoice, and concluded the matter to everybody's satisfaction.

Just goes to show that sometimes, a little bit of public peer pressure is what it takes to be listened to.

Further Reading

This is part of a 4-story series:

  1. What is copyright, and how do infringements harm you?
  2. Protecting your copyright in a Digital World
  3. Just because it's in my RSS feed, doesn't mean you get to steal it
  4. Ignorance is no excuse

In addition, you might enjoy Police Fail: Copyright, what is that? and Even Schools Don't Care About Copyright...