With the recent closing of schools I and my membership have been asked a great deal about Teachers Pay Teachers. Is it responsible for teachers and districts to provide students with materials purchased through this service?
[NOTE: This answer is part of our ongoing response to institutions moving to online instruction as part of the world’s response to COVID-19. For additional Q&A on that, search “COVID-19” in the Ask the Lawyer search utility.]
“Teachers Pay Teachers” (“TPT”) is an interesting service that allows teachers to license (sell rights to) others who need customized lesson plans and educational material.
The member’s question relates to the TPT license, which governs what individuals and organizations can do with the content.
If the member’s question is asking: does the TPT license allow us to print and distribute the materials in hard copy for packets sent out by the District? The answer is generally: yes.
If the member’s question is asking: does the TPT license allow us to distribute the materials electronically using e-mail or a website or a Learning Management System? The answer is generally: it depends.
I spent some time on TPT’s website reviewing their “Terms of Service” and I believe teachers and organizations will need to examine the license for each separate purchase to confirm that electronic distribution is allowed.
Why? TPT’s “Terms of Service” largely allow for the creation of hard copies, but their default conditions bar online distribution. HOWEVER, TPT also allows the teachers supplying the content to loosen those default restrictions (including allowing distribution on the web, e-mail, etc.)…so while one lesson purchased from TPT might not allow a web or e-mail distribution, another might.
This can change not only from author to author, but content to content, so it is important to read the fine print.
I would add: these are early days in the pandemic response. As of March 26, 2020, TPT did not have any expressly Covid-19 policies on its website. Nevertheless, like other online and tech providers, they may realize their hour has come, and take action.
What will that action be? I can’t say; a crisis brings out the best and the worst in businesses. Some businesses will try and simply profit from the current situation; others will dig deep, conclude we are all in this together….and try to find at least middle ground.
Thank you for this important question.
USING LICENSED CONTENT TIP: If you or your institution conclude that TPT or another license does give you permission for electronic distribution, it is a good idea to take a screen shot of that license and save it (just e-mail it to yourself in a place where you know you’ll have it for 3 years after you’re done use the content). Online content providers can change the terms they post, without warning—and you want to be able to show that on the day you made the call to share the content electronically, the licensor allowed you to do so.
 Because some educational institutions own the rights to teacher-generated materials, and some do not, the Teachers Pay Teachers model is a fascinating study in copyright issues—but a global pandemic is not the time to muse over that.
 As of March 26th, 2020: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Terms-of-Service
 The Terms of Service allow you to: “Print and make copies of downloadable Resources as necessary for Personal Use. Copies may be made and provided to your students, classroom aides, and substitute teachers as necessary. Copies may also be made for students’ parents, classroom observers, supervisors, or school administrators for review purposes only. Hard goods and video resources may not be copied, shared, or otherwise reproduced.” [emphasis added]
 But not further tighten them. Like I said, a really interesting model.
 For instance, one license I looked at, for a chemistry class, said: “These resources may not be uploaded to the internet in any form (including classroom websites, personal web sites, Weebly sites, network sites) unless the site is password protected and can only be accessed by the students of the licensed teacher.” In other words: yes, you can distribute them electronically, if you use a restricted system!
 The diversity of author-specific permissions I saw on TPT was really interesting. Some folks just want credit. Others want you to not send the content, but drive people to their own personal listings (so their analytics show the hits). I bet some, in the coming days, will even change their permissions to respond to the pandemic with compassion.