Proper Tea is Theft

It’s an old joke, barely a joke at all – bit like copyright laws really.

Why do marxists only drink tea made with tea bags?

Because property is theft..

I thank you, start the car, taxi for simfin..

An alternative title for this post could be

Why We’re Happy to Teach

Our Learners to Steal

So. I’ve had ‘copyright/IPR’ on my ‘to-do’ list for over a year and still struggling to make sense of it all. I know where I need to be; we want some ‘simple guidance’ for schools to ‘put on our website’. Trouble is.. you can’t do simple guidance for something as complicated, at times perverse and, as I hope to outline here; at odds with the values and behaviours of teachers.. and our society.

Here’s where we going with this. We’re a nation of thieves with no respect for other people’s property, ideas or economic well being and we’re happily sharing this immorality with our learners in our schools.

A long time ago I was a teenager in the ’70s and music was a huge part of my, and my friends’, lives. Unlike today, the only place I could see Slade, Status Quo, David Bowie and pals was on Top of the Pops. Half an hour, once a week. (I’m being a tad disingenuous – there was often a pop group on ‘Crackerjack‘)

We had much more choice when it came to radio though – the impressive Radio 1 or Radio Luxembourg both in whistling mono on medium wave.

Fortunately for us disciples of subversive culture some of us had a crummy cassette recorder and by holding a mike to the telly, or radio we could record our fave bands, and, frustratingly, a few words from the DJ at the start and end of the song. It was when stereo, hi fi and the ubiquitous ‘music centre’  came along that we saw true stealing sharing by families and friends. ‘Tape it for us will ya?’ became part of everyone’s vacabularly – infact you would be reprimanded if you bought the same album as a friend ‘Why did you buy that when I’d have taped it for you – you should have got ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway‘ and taped it for me’. And so, we see the beginnings of the notion that it’s ok to steal from the Big Boys – those record companies making so much money from us poor teenagers, and our not so poor parents and their peers.

I think at that time we had some perverse logic that if one of us bought the record then that was okay – and certainly seems to be a tad less dishonest than today’s youth where nobody seems to have paid for the album, choosing to download from some dodgy (yet institutionalised) website. Lord (three strikes and you lose your internet connection) Mandelson was prompted to act, he says, when he discovered that only one in twenty downloaded tunes was downloaded legally. Anyway back then it appeared to us that bands had untold wealth and shurely they’d not miss my £5 for their album?

So that was that; music for the masses via the humble cassette tape.

(Let’s rewind for a moment.. ‘file sharing’? it’s a bit like ‘joyriding’ – and ‘collateral damage’ – euphemisms to make us feel better about our crimes against humanity..)

Enter then the video recorder. How could it be illegal to copy videos when high street stores sold the technology to do so. I remember the somewhat bizarre conflicting messages around ‘yes you can record tv programmes but you can’t show them to anyone..’

By this time (1984) I was a young world changing English teacher in an inner city ‘challenging’ secondary school – in Thatcher’s Britain. We had no budget and kids in families approaching 3 generations of unemployment. So I bought a ghetto blaster and spent the following years recording plays and music from the radio and films, documentaries and drama from the television. Don’t get me started on books.. when we could afford books (Of Mice and Men, Buddy, 18th Emergency) – the kids liked them so much they kept them! I remember we had so few copies they’d often share one between three.

So I was the photocopying king, like some master counterfeiter, churning out resources ‘for the kids’. I’m sure at that time I thought I’d happily go to prison for them – if I didn’t teach them, then what chance did they have?

So there we were, a nation of thieving teachers stealing other people’s work and justifying it with a higher moral ground and a collective sense of righteousness.

Let’s whoosh on into the 90’s. By this time I’d expanded my criminal activity to encompass Macs, desktop publishing and a very challenging 14.4 modem to access all 15 websites available globally for the committed teacher. As an empowered Mac user there was no stopping me and it is here that I perhaps differed from my PC colleagues who were happily copying clipart and program discs for their windoze 3.1 PCs. In some weird spat of loyalty to the minority mac community I paid for all my software. I was the one who bought ClarisWorks thinking that somewhere stateside I was helping to keep Apple in business (I didn’t say I was normal).

Imagine my delight in the opportunity to say goodbye to my Brother portable typewriter and endless packets of Letraset. No more crude attempts at making a NASA logo for my class trips to space. No more attempts to make Newspaper mastheads. I could go to The Guardian’s website and take myself a copy of theirs. I can remember lolloping around the school to show colleagues the quality of my kids’ newspapers. Let’s not forget my creative teaching of the apostrophe. Grabbing cartoon characters from Disney and Looney Toons websites for the kids to make posters like this:

Simple yet effective and powerful task – one I replicated again in the noughties with images of mobile phones, cyberbullying etc. Providing even the most reluctant writer the opportunity to succeed and write for a real audience.

Ofcourse I wasn’t alone, there are technology and ICT teachers across the land who have encouraged learners to source content from the interweb and it is only in recent times that we can see that some have ceased ‘Because the exam board won’t let us’ – not exactly the best reason – and I’m getting to that in a moment.

He that steals a cow from a poor widow, or a stirk from a cottar, is a thief; he that lifts a drove from a Sassenach laird, is a gentleman-drover. And, besides, to take a tree from the forest, a salmon from the river, a deer from the hill, or a cow from a Lowland strath, is what no Highlander need ever think shame upon.

-Scott, Sir Walter
Evan Dhu Maccombich to EdwardWaverley.Waverley, ch.18.

Okay, where am I going with this? Our man Walter has hit the nail on the head. It has been the view that it’s an ‘Us and Them’ world. We, the poor downtrodden under-funded, doing-good ‘for the kids’ teachers have tradionally ‘bent’ the rules because that’s what ‘normal’ people do. We are a nation of cassette and video recording, floppy disc copying, cd burning, rightclick saving internet voyagers enhancing the learning experience for the next/this generation learners. The anti piracy warnings at the beginning of DVDs prompt universal derision- ‘You wouldn’t steal a car’ – ‘I would if I could download one’.

All this can be achieved because traditionally we don’t see the whites of the eyes of the fat cats from whom we are acquiring content and resources.


It’s different now.

Web 2.0, and the rest, is making us a world of creators and publishers. We’re uploading pictures, music, videos, Flash activities, personal writing, presentations, teaching resources and more – and so are our learners. That image that you’ve found, is just the thing to add value and impact to the learning activity for that needy class of yours. But that image doesn’t belong to an international image company – no, it belongs to someone like you..

Now that’s different isn’t it?

Can you look a person in the eyes if you know they know you’ve taken something of theirs?

It’s 2010 and I’ve recently attended conferences where my resources have been re -presented by other speakers (did they know I’d be there when they created the presentation? – would it have made a difference?)

Intellectual Property – ’tis an interesting idea. Does it extend to my tweets on Twitter. Several times now I’ve seen my tweets passed off as someone elses’. Should I care?

My blog on e safety appears on another site – did they need to ask me first?

Did they need to seek copyright permission?

We are all producers and creators. Web 2.0 sees learners and teachers mingling together in a complicated collection of communication tools from Youtube to Facebook and I believe we’ve missed the most important message when considering copyright.

Currently our thinking has been around the threats of being caught. Schools and individuals will be faced with hefty fines if their crime can be proven. Well yes, sad I suppose and nobody likes to have their money taken from them do they? Yet the real point is this; we must teach our learners to value IPR. It is simply wrong to take without asking. It is wrong to pass what’s not yours, as your own. We need to instill respect for one and other – that is our priority.

I don’t even think it’s all about money – it’s about acknowledging people’s value.

The top image belongs to Meg Pickard – the one below appears in a Horlicks advert. You can read Meg’s account of how the companies concerned responded when she indicated they had used her image and her ‘idea’ without permission.

So, in the absence of a better suggestion, I’m all for creative commons. It allows us to build a respect for creativity, IPR and collaboration. We should be building this into our teaching; ‘That’s a great poem Jimmy lad, hop onto the CC site and get your IPR sorted. Have you thought about whether you want to allow people to add to it or would you prefer them to only read it as you intended?

Seems to me I’ve had a good idea there. You can copy it if you like.

My other copyright resources, including the fantastic NEN resources – can be found on the Northern Grid website

Further reading: ‘inspired’ by this blog, @jameclay has written an excellent piece on the same theme


24 Responses to Proper Tea is Theft

  1. Nice take Simon. It’s an issue that isn’t going to go away, and if anything, has been made more complex by Creative Commons and Copyleft. As a member of the Performing Right Society (I’m a muso, see) I was often appalled when people told me they had cassette tape versions of my singles. I had never released cassette tape versions – only vinyl, so they had copied (stolen) my property without paying for it. I never said anything though, just smiled. If my living had depended on it though, like so many struggling musicians, it would not have been a smiling matter.

    Intellectual property theft is another matter altogether, and probably the most complex of them all. How can you prove it was your idea? Someone said (I think it was Frances Bell) that any ideas of mine I blogged about, would be time and date stamped so I should be able to prove my ownership over those ideas against anyone else who copied them and posted them on their blogs. But it’s not a simple as that – you can alter the time and date stamp on your postings, just as you can claim that you had the idea first. It’s a funny old world….

  2. Doogie says:

    This is an excellent post. When you talk about the euphemisms we use to excuse ourselves you miss the fact that the emotive word “theft” is always used to describe what is happening. Theft means to be permanently deprived of something and is a criminal offence. Copyright infringement is, I believe, a civil offence. If I illegally downloaded a U2 song (God forbid!) then that doesn’t stop them from performing it, or stop it from being played on the radio.
    If this sounds like moral relativism then it is. Laws are relative as well – I wouldn’t expect to get a custodial sentence for doing 34mph in a 30 zone.
    What is needed is root and branch reform of copyright law but since it is a civil thing, like libel, it is the people with money and power who will drive the agenda.
    I’ve still got albums with the skull and cross bones of Home Taping is Killing Music on the sleeve liner. I fear reports of the music industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
    We will see changes but it will be a long and painful journey. Hopefully education will come out of better than a poster above the photocopier that nobody ever reads.

  3. simfin says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Steve – always valued (and sold on, by me, on ebay ‘slightly used Wheeler -sold as seen’

    My daughter’s starting to know what you mean. Her band (influenced by the mighty Steve Hillage among others) samples from a range of media – so she needs to address that – and her perception of copyright is morphing as she realises that perhaps she could earn money from her efforts.. if only people would buy rather than ‘share’

    I heard something on R4 a few months ago about comedians and jokes. Apparently there are some comedians and writers who go to see others with the intention of ‘reusing/repurposing’ the material ie my dog/cat/mother inlaw. The discussion centred around the difficulty in protecting an idea behind the joke.

  4. James Clay says:

    Personally I think we as teachers and educators should be setting examples to our learners. We should be seen as role models, that learners can look up to and respect.

    As soon as we decide that there are laws we shouldn’t adhere to, what are we saying to learners; that some laws are okay to be broken. Then the question has to be asked, which laws should we obey and which should we ignore. The problem with that approach is that not everyone thinks the same. To use an example from Doogie’s comment, most people I know think that 33mph in a 30mph zone is okay, a few people think 40mph is okay, a smaller number think that 50mph is not over the top…. the reality is that less than 30mph is best. Not because I think so, but because society thinks so.

    If you don’t like a law then we need to change that law. The problem with copyright law is that the money to change that law is coming from publishers and not from the consumers – but having said that, that is often the case, the consumer suffers, whilst “big business” profits.

    At the end of the day, my solution is to stop using “borrowed” third party content and start using content that I am allowed to use. As a teacher in the 1990s I did right click, now I use Flickr for images. The thing is that there are now lots of legal solutions to many of the copyright problems that teachers face, we can provide learners with content which is legal. Those of us who support learners need to provide solutions, not barriers to teachers. Teachers also need to be more creative and willing to compromise. Finally rights holders need to also be more creative in allowing people to use their content in creative and educational ways and legally.

  5. simfin says:

    Thanks James for a considered and thoughtful response. I agree and reiterate my point that our priority is to help our learners respect each others property, intellectual or otherwise – thanks again, I value your opinions 🙂

  6. […] blog entry was inspired by a blog post by Simon Finch. He writes about society and using stuff, he makes an interesting observation […]

  7. deKay says:

    Copyright, especially “fair use” and in education, has always been a grey area. In the “digital age” things seem to have gotten even greyer (if that’s possible). At least when you photocopied a book you knew, or at least should know, that 10% is fair use and more than that is very naughty indeed. How does this law apply to DVDs? Blog posts? Wikipedia? Does it even apply?

    I’m sure there’s an answer somewhere, but who knows this? CC helps make the mud somewhat clearer, but very little content is covered by it.

    Also, imagine the delicious cake of irony that would be baked if I copy and pasted your entire article and passed it off as my own. 🙂

  8. simfin says:

    You’d not be the first 😉

  9. […] Simon Finch was first up with his blog post entitled ‘Proper Tea is Theft’ at […]

  10. Alex Duncan says:

    Many thanks Simon – If I accredit you fully with the recognition you deserve for this article, please may I reproduce it and hand it to some staff, as I think you explain it perhaps more clearer than I can?

    Thanks also for the workshop yesterday at Eston CLC. It did make us think, and despite being a very grey area, it is one we need to look at in school.

  11. simfin says:

    No problem – happy to help

  12. Dani says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post! I remember recording Doctor Who episodes and trading VHS tapes full of them with other American fans, back in the very early 90s, which were often full of other snippets too – my first introduction to Red Dwarf I think, Blackadder, and little things like Jim’ll Fix It.

    I traded with regular people face to face at first, and when AOL came along I met other Doctor Who fans through that and traded all the way across the country! Many of us couldn’t get it any other way as more and more PBS stations dropped it. And heaven knows I had tons of cassettes with everything from sitcom episodes to the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, thanks to the old microphone-against-the-tv trick.

    I had no idea at the time that any of that – or any of the sound files and stories and pictures we were trading on AOL’s various forums – raised copyright issues. But as the web has developed, I’ve learned so much about copyright laws and intellectual property rights. I don’t think I would have learned, or been concerned about, any of that as long as it was still a matter of “us” and “them”.

    The best part is that I came across this post while searching for creative commons content about how to make a proper cup of tea, to share in one of the weekly mini-cookbooks that I write and send out by email. (I write the whole thing myself usually, but I thought I could find a little extra to stick in there this time.) That’s after scouring Flickr for creative commons images licensed for commercial use, and carefully attributing each one and linking it back to its creator.

    How times have changed!

  13. Dani says:

    Oh, and it’s nice to know about 10% being fair use. I assume we have something similar in the US anyway. I always wondered how my college professors could get away with selling us huge readers full of essays and chapters from published books! Although I have a friend who used to work in a copy store, and he said that quite a few professors were in flagrant violation of copyright law, and sometimes the store would have to refuse to copy things for them because it was so blatant….

  14. […] for teaching and learning in ways that may infringe copyright. The blog entry was inspired by a blog post by Simon […]

  15. An interesting article. However, with regards to your comments on the ‘us and them’ mentality, we’d point out that we collect licence fees on behalf of publishers and authors and visual artists, many of whom depend on copyright to earn a living from their creative talent.

    In your example (of a teacher finding an image for their class), it’s suggested that the image found belongs to ‘an international image company,’ whereas this may not be the case. The rights may belong to a visual artist who relies on remuneration for the copying of their work.

  16. @loisbray “it’s suggested that the image found belongs to ‘an international image company,’” Actually, the article goes on to say that it’s not the case – the person who put the image up may actually be an individual, just like the teacher involved.

    Good point, though, should it really matter if it’s a corporation and not an individual? It’s still theft, isn’t it?

  17. […] Copyright is an important issue for schools, teachers and pupils.  The best way of avoiding problems with copyright is to create your own images and sounds, this also allows pupils to understand how copyright relates to the work they create.  It is not always possible to create all images and sounds you need this post lists some of the archives of sounds and images available online.  Make sure you always check the terms and conditions. See Simfin’s blog for more information […]

  18. At the center of this is respect: of self, of other. There are ways to credit other and it isn’t difficult to do–so it does beg the question of why taking something is somewhat privileged. On a different note (yet connected), the writing of the post is most wonderful. Just read another post about computer based scoring of writing and I couldnt help but wonder what sense a computer might make of this post. I too was a teenager in the 70s and the language here brought me back. I can recall holding up the mike to a crappy radio and later cherishing the recording so I could replay the captured song over and over again.

    These ideas connect: respect in a post-mechanical age is somwhat related to memory, desire.

    As an artist, I simply rely on hoping others ask to use my work. Giving over to much energy to it (when I can manage that) isnt helpful.

  19. I had missed this when you posted it originally.
    Doogie is correct, it is not “theft” or “stealing”, although it is against Civil law in the UK (other countries have copyright breaches as part of criminal law, I believe). I also do not believe that we actually have the concept of ‘fair use’ under UK law, although there is the 10% rule or something along those lines.

    I can write a program which can produce, over time, any pattern of bits. Consequently it can reproduce any music, picture, film or computer program that has been, or could ever be, produced. It wouldn’t copy them – it would have no need to have ‘sight’ of the original. It would help, if I were seeking to have a facsimile, if it had access to a checksum/digital fingerprint of the original, but that is merely a convenience.

    Would the content it produced be in conflict with the current copyright law? Should I, if I chose to write the software, ask for permission from everyone before I ran it, in case it happened to reproduce something they had created?

    To some extent, at least, I make a copy in my brain of things I read, hear or otherwise sense – is that (semi-persistent) copy in breach of copyright? If not, why not?

    Teenagers I talk to tend to feel less worried about the idea of *actually* stealing, thanks to the propaganda campaign by the copyright industry. Because copying something available digitally has zero impact on the artist/creator, as they would not have purchased anyway, if that is theft, why not be prepared to steal material things? Because the copyright industry has conflated the digital with the physical, there appears to be a growing assumption that what applies in one domain applies to the other – and that is troublesome.

    When the unit cost of reproduction is essentially nil, is it right that people should be charged relatively massive sums for cultural artefacts?

    Personally I have almost never copied anything, except as a back up to insure myself against physical loss of the original. Even that, bizarrely, is on dodgy legal ground. Well, I say never, but read on for an explanation of why, in fact, that isn’t the case, and I make potentially infringing copies every day of my life.

    But first, let me say I agree wholeheartedly about building in sharing to our teaching. Using Creative Commons (or similar) is a great way of sharing what you have created with others, and if they abide by the social contract, it enhances your reputation. And the act of citing you enhances *their* reputation too.

    And I do understand the need for people to make a living – but on the other hand it never struck me that music or art were ways to do this – for *me* (and I realise this is entirely my personal view!), engaging in such endeavours is done because you want to share the idea/emotion etc. that you imbue the work with, not because you want to make loads of money (or even to eke out a living, as is the case with so many, especially those indentured to record ‘labels’ and other production companies).

    Why do I make potentially infringing copies every day? Because the law is incredibly (and I mean, unbelievably) bad. As the Meltwater case has shown, even though there are dispensations for companies such as your ISP for making temporary copies in order to transmit content over the ‘Web’, these do not apply to the end copy you view on your screen (or listen to over your speakers). The copy you get on your screen is a potentially infringing copy, if the person (or company) who put the content on the Web retains their copyright. And given you do not need to even assert copyright for it to exist, every page you view, unless it says on it that you can copy it, is a page you might owe someone royalties for. Obviously, most people are unlikely to chase you down for viewing their content – and hopefully, the law will change before this becomes the new hobby of the copyright industry!

    In the same way, if @MaryAnneReilly got her computer to try and make sense of an article, that involves a copyright infringing copy (unless you manage some rather impressive shenanigans which cause the computer to only hold a temporary copy which is quickly stripped of its original form).

    And I do have to wonder about whether it is morally right to automatically obey every law, as James Clay seems to suggest we should? Thanks to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, you may not even know what the laws are at any given point in time (or have any way of actually discovering them). So, actually, at any point where we are in a state of emergency, copyright law could become part of criminal law – and viewing web pages could become a criminal offence without you even knowing about it… I wonder how long it will be until some rich company persuades our politicians that that would be a good idea…

  20. Nice post Simon, thanks! You’ve helped me remember all those TDK C90 tapes I used to hold so dear with copied/borrowed ZX Speccy games (I think I had one C90 with over 150 games on it, including Spyhunter, Elite, and Jet Set Willy [smile] – remember them?).

    In recent times I’ve seen my presentations and blog posts regurgitated many times with no attribution at all, in fact it has been slide-for-slide or word-for-word accurate with someone else’s name on it … and in one case this was from a supposed colleague in a job I left several months ago!! All they had to do was ask and I would have been happy to help.

    All the best. David

  21. […] Copyright is an important issue for schools, teachers and pupils.  The best way of avoiding problems with copyright is to create your own images and sounds, this also allows pupils to understand how copyright relates to the work they create.  It is not always possible to create all images and sounds you need this post lists some of the archives of sounds and images available online.  Make sure you always check the terms and conditions. See Simfin’s blog for more information […]

  22. […] In his talk at the CILIPS Gathering 2013, Simon Finch pointed out that the digital world is existing within a legal framework put together with no concept of its future existence and that’s causing problems. Read more of Simon’s thoughts on copyright here. […]

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