Tutoring Copyright — Or Wrong?

It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that tutoring is a big business in Westport.

Students — well, their parents — spend big bucks. They pay not just for traditional catch-up or explain-deeper tutoring, but for test and quiz preparation, even homework help.

Some may be paying for material they should not actually see.

A local teacher recently learned that a tutoring company helped prepare students for tests by handing out worksheets that the teacher — not the tutoring company, or any of its tutors — had created.

The teacher’s name was even on the sheets.

“I’ve spent my career creating lessons and handouts,” the teacher says. “Every year I revise what I do — trying to make it better. That’s my job. I create materials, so my students can learn.”

Tutors can build great rapport with students. But they can't just hand out material that other teachers have created for their own classes.

Tutors can build great rapport with students. But they can’t just hand out material that other teachers have created for their own classes.

The teacher tutors too. “I believe in the importance of help,” the teacher says. “But this is my work. It’s being appropriated by someone else. They took it without asking. That company is making money off of me.”

It’s not just an ethical argument.

A copyright attorney says that while it is unclear who owns the copyright to that material — the teacher or the school — this is “unquestionably copyright infringement.” The attorney believes the tutoring service could be sued for damages — and, in theory, the copyright holder could also seek an injunction against the service.

The teacher now includes a copyright notice on the bottom of every worksheet, quiz and test handed out.

Maybe the next tutoring session could be on copyright law.

13 responses to “Tutoring Copyright — Or Wrong?

  1. Fantastic that she is aware and taking steps to protect herself, and for you sharing this on this blog. (Copying may be the sincerest form of flattery but most of us are over flattered anyway 😉

  2. Marcia Wright

    Before I retired (after teaching over three decades in Westport), I shared the work I created with my colleagues without a second thought. This situation turns my stomach.

  3. Bobbie Herman

    “off of?” I wouldn’t have much faith in this teacher.

  4. Jamie Walsh

    Effective teaching is about sharing knowledge, wisdom and experience without ego. Do we really need to go to the place where lawyers are needed to protect the dissemination of knowledge that ultimately enriches those who it is supposed to benefit..the student? I think not! Credit is ok for those who create it…but lawsuits…not ok.

    • Sidney Upton

      Jamie, good point, except that we aren’t talking here about Socrates teaching Plato. If a for-profit enterprise is making money while using stolen materials—whether out of laziness, ineptitude, or something else—then action does need to be taken. It sounds as though the teacher spends a great deal of effort creating top-notch materials for her students and tutees—only to find her rivals cannibalizing her tutoring business by essentially selling goods they stole. I think we can all agree that enrichment of the student is the ultimate goal, but if that were the sole motivation, then the tutoring company should be offering pro bono services to enrich as many students as possible. By charging money for the enrichment, the company is explicitly violating the law. Helping students, yes, but at the expense of ethics.

  5. Shannon Nordlinger

    I could be wrong, but I think the issue here is the teacher created the work product and then another entity is charging students for access to material they didn’t create. I imagine it’s the making money off of their work that is offensive to the teacher. Lawsuit or not, legal or not- it’s really inappropriate for the tutoring company to use the worksheets with the teacher’s name attached. I’d be mad too.

  6. Carol Sampson

    The issue here is that there are unethical tutoring places in town that are trying to give students’ an advantage by gaining access to information that is not theirs to disseminate. If they are giving out a teacher’s worksheets without permission, could they also be giving out copies of a teacher’s exams or writing college essays?

  7. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Perhaps this issue should be submitted to the NYT “The Ethicist” ?!

  8. Jean O'Dell

    I retired a year ago after teaching math for 45 years; I was always happy to share my materials.
    There is another side to this, though – teachers and tutoring organizations regularly copy pages, chapters, even entire books that are protected by copyright under the mistaken impression that everything is OK to copy for educational purposes. I believe this is part of the reason we have so much much inferior published teaching material compared to the early years of my career. Students come home with material that says “copyright” at the bottom and I wonder when a publisher might decide to make someone an example.