Sharing has a dark side that is rarely discussed. It comes in like Darth Vader. Breathing heavy, all gruff, and it says, “I took your work and am profiting off it it.” Then there’s Yoda, he’s all, “Share you must. Inspire others you will.” I like to live my life like Yoda. But, Vader shows up sometimes. And he’s awful.
I’ve created hundreds of graphics. On my laptop, on my phone, on paper. I share them, freely. I always felt like, when I made something, if it makes even one other teacher’s day, mission accomplished. My name or website has ALWAYS been on them. Super small, because hey, if my goal is to create things for teachers to inspire themselves on their classroom wall, the last thing I want it my gigantic name shining on their classroom wall. Pompous much? Teaching is a hard profession. It’s rewarding, and joy filled, and fantastic. But, also… hard. Society doesn’t always value teachers. School days can be rough. Our hearts can be tugged by kids we see struggling personally. The list could go on. But for anyone who has ever been a part of this tribe we call education, you get it.
Somehow, I’ve always felt that if I create something positive to share, I might be somehow making someone else’s day a little brighter. From the very start, I’ve been clear. You can print and hang anything I create in your classroom– but it must never, ever be for sale. My posters, licensed Creative Commons, Non-Derivative, Non commercial from the beginning and falling under the automatic copyright for things created after 1978.
These norms? They were written with a special class of kiddos many years ago and I turned them into poster form one summer, so the kids could see their words on the wall. They’ve been copied countless times. Not just copied like, a general idea, but copied. Word. for Word. It wasn’t the copying that really got me. It was the selling. Selling. And sold. On teacher sale sites. And when I report? It’s always the same, “Oh, I didn’t know.” or worse, “I got them somewhere else.” I’ve seen too many companies try to look the other way. I suspect because business is good and it’s easier to claim not knowing than take products down.
People will “borrow” graphics on social media, cropping out that watermark and re-sharing, and boom. The graphic seemingly belongs to the world. But the 2012 date on Flickr, with “All Rights Reserved.” Still there.
And most recently and possibly what set off this plea of epic proportions? I was in one of my favorite store’s dollar spot and they they were, the exact words. Word for word. On pencils. On posters. On sentence strips. The words I had written with my students years ago. Now for sale.
Then there’s “I Teach: What’s Your Superpower?” I’ve seen it… everywhere. At first, I thought, great, it’s inspiring others. Empowering us as teachers. But then I noticed, people are making money off it it. A lot of money. Often times when it’s copied, even the layout is kept very similar. Edutopia. Etsy. Or just Google the image… yikes. And now? A graphic that I meant to be free for teachers is being used up. Over and over.
Over the years, I’ve answered hundreds of emails from people wanting to use my graphics for tshirts, for inspirational displays in their schools. I have never said no. I’m not saying this to earn a halo or stroke my ego- my point is, the people were polite enough to ask, and doing the right thing. There are so many out there doing the RIGHT THING. My question was always simple, is this for profit?
But for all the good, Vader still comes along. Sorry About the Mess was even found for sale in my previous all time favorite craft supply store last summer. In This Classroom We Don’t Do Easy has been on teacher-made product sale sites, handmade art sites, various shops at Amazon, and was also found in that same store for sale.
People will claim that I just need to hire a lawyer, send letters. I just need to notify someone. Truth is, I’m too busy teaching to make protecting my work a full time job. And maybe that’s why it’s so out of hand. It makes me feel so petty. So taken advantage of. So disheartened about the entire online community. At some point we’ve crossed a line between sharing and profiting, and started marketing ourselves as products rather than people. It is a slippery slope down a gross trail of greed. It’s gross to me anyway. People are clammoring to market their ideas and their work and sell. sell. sell. It’s all getting worse and it’s bothering me on a bigger level than before. I want to believe the good in people. I want to keep sharing openly because I love this profession. I love learning. I love celebrating all that is good in the world. But, everyone is selling something, or worse, themselves. Even if that means borrowing others work and stamping their own watermark on it to make a buck or level up into some higher echelon of social media status.
I’ve never denied that teachers deserve the chance to share their work, even be compensated for it. Of course they do. But I ask, who is making the money off most of these stolen graphics? Big companies. Corporations. Websites. Not teachers really. Not at all. Maybe they are earning a portion, but I guarantee the companies in question are the ones raking in money off graphic searches and recreations.
If this reads like a vent. It is. If it reads as a wake up call for people to stop stealing. It is. If it reads like a plea for people to just stop being greedy, it is. Create your own things to sell, or don’t sell them. You are what the world needs anyway. Not a copy of someone else’s ideas or words.
If you’ve printed and hung a poster that I made, I hope you know this post is not about you. YOU are the reason I value creativity. It empowers us to take a message or thought from inside us and turn it into a tangible form. In Yoda speak, “Continue to create, I will.” But I’m rethinking what it means to be a connected educator and what it means to share openly. It’s a highly personal thing, releasing that message to the world. And maybe that’s exactly why it feels so awful when it’s stumbled upon, used up and tossed on a sale site or store shelf. And that’s exactly what the darkside of sharing is like. Personal.