Having a copyright doesn't mean your creations are safe

20th October 2006 at 01:00
Chris Henshaw had an idea good enough to sell - and good enough to steal I originally devised "Thinking Out Of The Box - 200 open-ended activities on colour-coded cards" to use in my primary school as part of our teaching and learning policy. We used these activities, based on a multiple intelligence approach to extending thinking skills, at the start of every day before we held a plenary session to discuss our ideas.

When heart problems forced me to retire early, I decided to develop the box commercially. It has been very successful, selling mainly through the online shop Incentive Plus, and there is now an Out Of The Box series covering emotional intelligence, brain boosting, circle time, conflict resolution and anger management.

However, the success and simplicity of the box has created its own problems related to copyright. In September last year a friend told me my box had been mentioned in the primary staffroom of the TES website.

I discovered that in August 2005 a teacher had bought a copy of my box and then copied the contents of many cards, word for word, on to a thread for everyone to share.

Someone else then copied this into the exact format of the cards in my box, which was then posted on to another website for people to download. To be completely fair, a few new ideas had been added, but 75 per cent of the copied "Thinking Cards" were from my box. I contacted the TES web staff who promptly pulled the thread. The owner of the other website also withdrew the cards as soon as possible, but I have no idea how many people downloaded my product.

There was a ripple of indignation; many teachers seemed to feel that I had no right to request the thread's removal. One even suggested that as they couldn't afford to buy the box it was somehow all right to share the contents freely. I wonder if that teacher would feel it was all right to walk into a department store and take an item of clothing that they thought was too expensive.

But then two teachers not only downloaded my work but sold it on eBay as their own. When I contacted eBay they were fairly helpful, but it took several days, and my having to fax several forms on Verification of Right of Ownership, before the items could be withdrawn. I managed to track down the real identities of both teachers and advised them in writing that they had infringed my copyright.

I asked them to remove my work from the marketplace immediately, make no further attempt to sell it under their current name or any other name, and ensure that all copies were destroyed. I also said that if they continued to sell my work I would seek legal redress through the courts and seek damages for loss of earnings and loss of reputation.

The problem of copyright theft has not disappeared. Teachers still use websites offering to send the copies they downloaded last summer to people requesting morning activities, thinking skills or other related requests.

Usually when I email them to explain the situation they are very apologetic and don't distribute them.

However, my cards don't always appear under the same name. Over the summer I discovered another resource which copied about 75 per cent of my cards.

There had been 500 downloads before it was removed: potentially pound;13,000 in sales.

My first reaction to all of this is disappointment that teachers would knowingly rip off someone else's work, whether for financial gain or not.

But it has made me determined to know the copyright law.

I've found challenging people stressful and time-consuming. I spend countless hours every week monitoring various websites. It's not how I want to spend my time but I have no choice if I want to protect my copyright.

Details of Out of the Box resources are available on www.thinkingoutofabox.co.uk or from 01242 575 315 or chris.henshaw@talk21.com

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