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Why copyright 'For educational purposes' is becoming a real problem

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

I have recently been thinking about our role, as school librarians, in the UK and our understanding of copyright. Especially what our role is in ensuring that the schools we work with understand it too. Many teachers still use the 'for educational purposes' rule and misunderstand the importance of taking the opportunity to teach best practice as far as giving credit, even for something that is going to stay within the classroom. I believe that if this is allowed to continue we will end up with lot of students work being shared online as evidence of good work without any referencing.

Why is this such a problem? As these children become adults they will move into our online world without the knowledge and real understanding that a persons property is equally important online as it is in the physical world. We, as parents, teach our children that stealing is wrong. This does not seem to be being translated to the online world. It is easy to forget that someone somewhere actually worked to produce the information/picture/story/film we took or shared and that it is not only wrong, it will impact others lives.

I came across an article the other day written by Katy Guest in the Guardian called I can get any novel I want in 30 seconds can book piracy be stopped? The impression the article gave was that many people don't see illegal downloading of a book a problem. Guest says that although some do feel guilty about it they give excuses such as price, lack of local libraries, greedy authors and mainly how easy it was it do it as reasons for continuing (2019).

This made me think about a recent request I had from a local school. I was asked if my colleagues (all librarians) and I would help them with a project to encourage parents to read a bedtime story. I was delighted and intrigued to hear their idea so arranged to meet. What they wanted us to do was to record ourselves reading picture books which they would share with their pupils and parents. The hope was that those children whose parents did not read to them got the benefit of a bedtime story and would hopefully begin to encourage the parents to start reading too.

I thought it was an absolutely lovely idea with very good intentions, but knew immediately that we would have copyright issues recording someone reading whole books and sharing it and said as much. The Head explained that they had a platform that they used to communicate directly with parents so it would not be on the open internet so I agreed to investigate.

I thought I would be best to start with an author I knew well. I explained the idea and asked would she mind if we used one of her books to start with. She said she would be delighted but would need to ask her publisher as she needed to check who held the rights to the book. I had always thought it was the author who held the rights to their own books but it turns out that this is not alway the case.

The publisher did hold the rights in this case and after asking the answer came back:-

"I think this is problematic regarding permissions so I’m afraid we have to pass on this request". I understand this response because if they go down this route it legally opens up the opportunity for others to do the same. There is no benefit for the author or the publisher to give their books away free.

I went back to the school and told them that on our first attempt we had failed. They still did not understand as they had been told by other educational professionals that if it was in a restricted platform where only the parents and children would see it that it would be ok. I said that I was prepared to investigate further as I still felt that this work around was still a problem.

Talking to copyright professionals I got this response from Jane Secker ( :-

"The question is interesting, because performing a copyright work (ie reading it out) is a restricted act, if this is a public performance – however if you are performing it for educational purposes then there is an exception in the law (Section 34). The issue is that you are recording the reading and it’s available to not just the students, but their parents as well.

My questions to you would be Would you read out the entire work (e.g. the entire story?) The fact the platform is password protected makes what you are doing less risky, however technically I would say you would need permission from the publishers to do this, if you are reading the entire story and recording it in this way. This is because parents also have access, and there is a chance that this would undermine sales of say an audio book".

Responses on twitter said much the same.

The outcome of this is that I have decided that we are unable to help with this project, although I can see from the schools perspective it is something that will be benefiting those children who will not get a story read to them. I have however encouraged them to look at official story channels like CBBC and asked them to consider sharing this instead.

What is difficult for me is that it is easy to find examples of schools who are reading whole picture books and sharing online, and us saying no looks like we are being over the top by sticking to the letter of the law. However as a professional librarian I am not only bound to uphold the ethics of my profession of which copyright is one of them but I also believe it is our role to protect the copyright of others many of whom allow us, as a library service, to lend their property to others.

Where does this leave us when schools and teachers are not fully aware of copyright laws? It leaves the perfect opportunity for school librarians to help support and educate our teachers and students. School librarians need to be aware of the basic rules and to know and understand where we can go for support and help. I think a lot more work needs to be done on this as it is important for our profession but also to protect the authors and artists of the future.

After publishing this blog I was made aware of a blog written by Emily Stannard called The School Librarian and Copyright that adds so much more to this discussion. Emily is an expert in copyright and her blog has some great understanding and advice for school librarians.


Guest, K. (2019, March 6). 'I Can Get Any Novel I Want Within 30 seconds': Can Book Priacy be Stopped? Retrieved March 17, 2019, from The Guardian:

3,184 views4 comments


Mar 19, 2019

Thank you so much Leila and for taking the time to sign up and write on my blog. I had no idea about publishing and had wrongly assume that the author would hold the rights. From your comment it looks like I was not the only one to think this. Thanks for the link to the article it certainly makes interesting reading! I was planning to write a simple guide to copyright for school librarians, it looks like I need to add 'who has the rights to a book' too.


Unknown member
Mar 19, 2019

Thanks for this interesting post. As a conventionally-published (i.e. not self-published) author I joined especially to reiterate this point, and to urge teachers and librarians to bear it in mind: " I had always thought it was the author who held the rights to their own books but it turns out that this is not alway the case. ". Actually it is *hardly ever* the case. If the book in question is 1) in print, i.e. still available to buy new, 2) conventionally published through a publisher, such as Scholastic, Firefly, Penguin Random House - any conventional publisher which does not require the writer to pay to print their book - the author will NOT hold the rights to reproducti…


Mar 18, 2019

Thank you for taking time to comment Kay. Absolutely, It is hard to be the one saying no but if we don't do it then who?

There have been a lot of comments from American Teacher Librarians and others around the world where they do not realise I am writing from a UK perspective and I will have to remember in future to write this in my blog. I may even edit this on to reflect this although many have already read it. I do think American copyright is similar to UK so not so much of a worry :)

I am delighted that you want to reflect on this in your own blog and I can't wait to read…


Great post, Elizabeth, which raises a really tricky dilemma that I have also encountered. In my previous position, I was the copyright advisor for a system of schools, and although I ran countless workshops and created a variety of resources, there remained confusion about copyright exceptions for educational use. This is understandable, as the exceptions are becoming increasingly complex to apply in the now blended world of offline and online learning. An added layer of complexity comes from the different laws guiding fair use in different countries - teachers try to do the right thing by reading a blog post about copyright, and don't realise that if they are not in the same country as the author, the rules might…

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