Marenem, Inc. v. Deanna C. Jump Lawsuit Reminds Teacherpreneurs About Originality, Fair Use, and Copyright

Recently, it came to my attention that TeachersPayTeachers superstar, Deanna Jump, is (or was?) involved in a lawsuit over copyright infringement. TPT is an online marketplace targeted at teachers where one can download or upload and buy or sell educational resources. In a nutshell, Marenem, Inc., a company that sells teaching resources, is suing Jump for infringing on its copyright of a phonics program called Secret Stories - Cracking the Reading Code because she sells a similar product called Spelling Chunks. The U.S. Government Publishing Office has documents about the pending case here. The latest summary looks like the judge denied Jump motion for summary judgement, and it will probably proceed to a court trial.

I've never taught phonics, but as a former elementary teacher, I know that teachers recycle and pass on ideas from everyone and everywhere, so I wondered if this was just an honest coincidence. Looking over the April 18, 2013 case summary, I was surprised to see all the similarities in Jump's Spelling Chunks to Marenem, Inc.'s Secret Stories.

Questions that came to my mind were:
How long has the parts of Secret Stories in question been on the market?
Are these phonics memory strategies common knowledge among lower elementary teachers? 
Why are there so many specific similarities between the two resources?
And the obvious: Did Jump knowingly replicate Marenem, Inc.'s work?

It's April 2016 as I write this post, but the only information I could find about the case is from April 2013. I thought this would get a little more publicity, but I guess I'm just in a small teacher world.

Like Jump, I also sell teaching resources through This lawsuit reminded me to visit my own online store and question my products. About a year ago I took some educational technology courses at University of Houston that required me to learned about copyright and fair use issues. Since then, I've been much more mindful of what I use to create new things. I have taken many things off of my virtual store shelves and I'm in the process of revising many items.

Under Fair Use, we can "borrow" from things that are copyrighted, but we must doublecheck the amount that we use and the effects that our creations might have on the copyrighted work. That's where things get complicated. Below, I suggest resources to help you get familiar with Copyright and Fair Use.

Learning about copyright and Fair Use

I recommend visiting PBS SoCal Copyright for Educators to learn more about Copyright and Fair Use in the context of Education. This excellent site explains it using simple language accompanied by video, charts, and graphics. I think this is where the much-referenced Copyright Guidelines for Teachers PDF document originated.

For more information, the YouTube CrashCourse chanel has a fun playlist with video explanations about Intellectual Property. I recommend watching Copyright, Exceptions, and Fair Use: Crash Course Intellectual Property #3:

It gets into Fair Use at minute 05:30.

Before you upload unto your store, don't forget to look over TPT's Copyright & Trademark page. It also helps to have the Fair Use Factors posted somewhere to refer when you develop works for TPT and right before you upload.

Be original to be safe

The safest way to make resources available online is to make sure that your ideas and products are original. If you must "borrow" a substantial amount, then only use information that is factual, in the public domain, or have a license that allows liberal re-use, such as a Creative Commons license.

I think teacher-sellers should help each other out by considering using open licenses to expand the use of their work. The TPT Copyright FAQ page even encourages it. One of the ways that I retain my copyright but make my work open for others to re-use and share 100% of it is by applying Creative Commons licenses on my products.

Visit my other posts on related topics to learn more:
Issues About Making and Selling Educational Products on TeachersPayTeachers
How-To Guide: Sharing OPEN Resources on TeachersPayTeachers