Respecting Copyright in Your Notebooking Pages Part 1: Derivative Works

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copyright for homeschool notebooking

Bright Ideas Press recently requested that a blogging mom remove her free notebooking pages because the company felt that they infringed on their copyright of the Mystery of History curriculum.

This is an important issue for homeschooling moms. We love to supplement our curriculum with homemade materials — notebooking pages, minibook templates, worksheets, etc. Furthermore, we love to share what we create with others. What is okay to share, and what is not okay?

The issue here is the creation of derivative materials from trademarked products. Even if a mom were sharing her printables free of charge, she  is violating intellectual property rights when she uses the exact (trademarked) name of the curriculum or uses lesson/chapter titles from that resource.

What is the solution?

1. She can not share what she creates.

A publisher doesn’t care if you make derivative works for your own educational use. It’s when you start sharing them that the problem arises.

2. She can make her printables more generic.

Removing any reference to a specific, trademarked curriculum or book will fix the problem. In the case linked above, this is easy. Daisy can rename her printables History Pages or some other general title. No publisher owns the rights to general terms like “The Middle Ages” or “Ancient Egypt.”

Moral of the Story

Look at your free printables through the eyes of a publisher or author. They worked hard, creating that curriculum and will work hard to protect it. Do your freebies give away too much about the curriculum or use exact wording from the curriculum? If so, revamp the printables so that they can be used with any curriculum at all.

The publisher would be glad for you to mention your use of their curriculum. So do that. But make sure your freebies are supplements to your topic of study and not derivative works of a specific curriculum.

Read part two: Respecting Copyright in Your Notebooking Pages Part 2: Images and Graphics.

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Jimmie Quick

Jimmie is now a veteran homeschool mom. Her daughter Emma is a student of the sciences at a large university in Illinois. Her guide to notebooking—Notebooking Success—guides you through notebooking: what it is; how to use it; how it fits a Charlotte Mason, classical, and textbook curriculum; tips for getting the most educational value from it; and much more. It comes bundled with several bonuses, including a small set of generic notebooking pages that can be used with any topic.

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Daisy Reply

Great post and one that needs to get out because I had no idea I was stepping on copyrighted toes. 🙂

I wonder if there is still a problem with following the sequence that MOH uses? Even if I don’t use their lesson titles, my notebook pages are still in the same sequential order. Each curriculum picks and chooses what it will highlight in a chronology. Any thoughts?

    Jimmie Quick Reply

    I want to thank you for being such a good sport about it, Daisy. You were humble and kind through the entire situation.
    As far as your question, I think that the order, since it is history, is not a problem. History is normally studied in chronological order. But to make it more personal, it would be good to add in your tangents and extras. That makes is definitely YOUR study and not just a copy of MOH.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom Reply

Nicely done. As someone who works both sides of this issue, I appreciate you spelling things out in a clear manner for moms.

Lainie @ Mishmash Maggie Reply

Jimmie I am so glad you are posting about this. There is another blogger who has gone beyond the making of free printables and is selling curriculum as her own that is clearly stolen from another curriculum that vehemently refuses to stop. Thank you for recognizing the need to clarify this topic.

Daisy, you are very honorable to respond the way you did. I’m sure you put a lot of work into your printables.

Aadel Reply

I applaud you for bringing this to light Jimmie! However, copyright does NOT protect the titles of books, chapter headings, or general ideas. Copyright law will not protect the name of a company either. http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ34.pdf

Trademark law protects the trademarked name of titles and companies- they are two separate government entities. Technically- if you do not claim the TM on the name of your curriculum- you cannot claim trademark violation.

So, it is entirely possible to remove the instances of the trademarked name and still retain everything else.

That being said- I think it is in the interest of everyone in the homeschooling community that good relationships be maintained. Although, I find it saddening that MOH was compelled to send a C&D to a loyal customer who was providing a free supplement to their curriculum.

    Jimmie Quick Reply

    Thanks for the clarifications, Aadel. Very helpful information.
    (And like you point out, regardless of the intricacies of the law, getting a reprimand from a curriculum company is not a pleasant thing at all.)

Chelle Reply

Thanks for bringing this to our notice Jimmie.

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