This article originally appeared in Heart and Mind:
To Photocopy or Not to Photocopy: That is the Question
“Oh my, you’ve got the new Lyrical Life Science tapes. I’d love to have those myself!” I said to my friend.
“I’ll dub a copy for you,” she answered.
“That would be great,” I said, as I began to salivate over my soon-to-be new acquisition.
“Don’t worry about the copyright, teachers do this all the time. No reason we shouldn’t either,” my friend replied without any prompting from me. “They buy one original and then make copies for all the kids in their classroom. Our homeschool group is no different from a classroom. Besides it’s so expensive to homeschool, we shouldn’t be expected to have to buy all our materials.”
The more my friend justified making the copy for me, the more I realized that it was wrong. When I got home, I threw the dubbed tape away. To buy the original tape would’ve put too much strain on my budget, so I made the decision to simply live without it. Lyrical Life Science is something that surely would’ve added to my homeschool, but it was not an absolute need. I found other, less expensive, sources for science enrichment.
There was a time when I didn’t think twice about photocopying workbook pages, dubbing videotapes or audiotapes, or even pirating computer software. However, on that day I did think twice and I realized how wrong it is to do so.
First, it is illegal to steal intellectual property and as Catholics we are obliged to follow the law. (Unless, of course, it is an immoral law.) Though we may save ourselves a few dollars in copying, others are forced to pay for our “savings.” Much in the same way that shoplifters “save” themselves money but the rest of us pay more for our products to make up for the loss caused by the shoplifter.
For the purpose of this column, I’d like to focus on copying consumable workbooks. A consumable is designed to be used just once, unlike a textbook that can be reused and even resold (though not copied). It should be noted that it is not always illegal to copy consumables for multiple uses. Look at the inside cover of the workbook and read the copyright notice. Some educational publishers will grant permission there for you to make copies for your classroom. For homeschoolers, a classroom would be defined as our homeschooled children or the children in our homeschool co-op. It does not mean that we can photocopy and then sell or return.
If the copyright page does not grant permission to make copies and you truly cannot afford to buy multiple workbooks, then contact the publisher and ask permission. If the answer is “yes” that is wonderful, if the answer is “no” then you need to find another solution. At that point you should ask yourself if this particular workbook is a “need” or a “want.”
You should also consider the cost of photocopying, which isn’t always cheaper. For example, Beverly Adams-Gordon grants permission to purchasers of her Spelling Power program to copy the consumable worksheets. However, it is cheaper to buy the Spelling Power workbook than to make copies at Kinko’s or Staples. (If your husband is photocopying at work, make sure that he has permission from his employer and has offered to pay for the service, ink, and paper.)
It is estimated that as much as 50% of homeschooling materials in circulation are being illicitly copied. Quite frankly, this estimate shocks me. An author recently shared with me stories of homeschool support groups who have purchased one copy of a consumable curriculum series and then passed it throughout the entire group for collective copies. She also told me of families who purchased a single workbook to photocopy for their whole family and then resold as new.
A publisher of a virtues based program told me once of how she had books returned for a refund, only to find photocopied pages still stuck inside the books. This is a program that teaches virtues! Being thrifty means being prudent, which is a virtue. It doesn’t mean taking undue advantage of writers and publishers in order to save a few dollars.
Illicit copying not only hurts writers and publishers, but also ultimately affects the cost of materials to the consumer. Most homeschooling publishers are already working on very thin margins. If materials are purchased instead of photocopied, then publishers can print in larger quantities, which in turn lowers the per-unit cost and results in a savings for all homeschooling families.
Most copyright and trademark violations are done out of ignorance. Just as I thought at first it was okay to accept a dubbed copy of Lyrical Life Science from my friend. If we choose to educate ourselves in this area and then follow the law, we will be better Christians in the end. We will be practicing the very virtues that we strive to teach our children.
Scripture tells us, “The worker is worth his wage.” The only way that an author can gain his wage is through the sale of his intellectual property. (This also applies to authors of music and software.) If we copy works without permission, we are literally stealing wages from the worker. On the other hand, if we take the time and make the effort to either seek permission to copy, or adjust our budget so that we can make the purchase, or even make the decision to utilize the library or Internet instead, we are growing in virtue.
If you are ever unsure of whether or not you can make copies of something, the solution is very simple – contact the publisher.
Maureen Wittmann is coeditor and contributing author to The Catholic Homeschool Companion [Sophia Institute Press]. She welcomes you to join her at The Thrifty Homeschooler.