Guidance for edtech leaders navigating common challenges around licensing, copyright, and permissions.
GUEST COLUMN | by Jay Diskey
There’s little doubt that technology has become central to K-12 education. In less than a quarter of a century, the burgeoning U.S. education technology industry has equipped the nation’s schools and homes with a vast array of tools, services and programs to support learning. In doing so, the ed tech industry has forever changed how teachers teach and how students learn.
However, one thing that has not changed is the need for high-quality instructional content. This has remained the bedrock of K-12 education, especially with today’s personalized education programs with local content and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at their core.
‘…one thing that has not changed is the need for high-quality instructional content.’
The development of new digital curriculums has significantly increased the demand for substantial quantities of copyrighted material from a wide variety of sources. Unfortunately, with that demand comes a number of licensing challenges. Edtech developers often encounter difficulties and delays in securing copyright permissions to incorporate authentic content such as chapters, excerpts and passages in their applications. Common challenges include:
- Obtaining copyright permissions on an individual basis at scale and in time for in-class and remote learning is administratively difficult and time-consuming. Some publishers can take six to eight weeks or longer to secure rights for one text passage.
- Some organizations lack dedicated staff with specialized knowledge to seek and obtain rights.
- There is too much variation from one rightsholder agreement to another resulting in an inconsistent set of rights across instructional materials. This lack of uniformity makes it difficult to determine what developers can and cannot do with content in their product and requires ongoing tracking by ed tech companies to ensure compliance with the terms of individual agreements.
- Developers need flexible rights to adapt to changing circumstances and changing client requirements such as the shift to remote and hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Schools seek more timely, local and diverse content for personalized learning. To fulfill this need, expanded access to content is needed.
To navigate these copyright challenges, edtech companies need an efficient way to incorporate high-quality supplementary materials to adapt curriculum to meet each student’s diverse needs and interests. To accomplish this, developers need to add value to ed tech products and services by offering a way for companies to easily reuse pre-permissioned selections from a large universe of content to support instruction.
Luckily, there are solutions that exist that provide edtech companies with a broad repertory of rights to use excerpts of high-quality fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, newspapers and web content from leading publishers, all for use in curriculum and instruction. The most successful solutions include features that have the abilities to:
- Provide permission to use selections from diverse, high-quality, current content from a wide range of publishers. This will give developers the content depth and breadth needed to help educators reach all learners.
- Flexibly add, remove, test or use portions of authentic content. Developers should be able to personalize instruction to adapt the content each student sees based on their performance.
- Establish “hands-off compliance,” that minimizes a company’s infringement risk and better manages copyright compliance.
- Eliminate the need to obtain individual licenses for each piece of content. It should allow the use of copyrighted passages and excerpts across a wide range of educational and news publishers that educators value, including ABDO, Boyds Mills & Kane, The Associated Press, and Smithsonian Books.
- Reduce administrative overhead by saving time and money searching for, obtaining and renewing copyright permissions. Solutions like CCC’s Annual Copyright License for Curriculum & Instruction, for example, grants ed tech companies the rights to use copyrighted passages and excerpts for a single license fee which covers all content and eliminates the need to negotiate with publishers and track permissions.
The majority of core and supplemental texts used for in-person and remote instruction, as well as educational applications and services, are under copyright in the U.S. As education technology companies seek to provide both virtual and in-person classrooms with new applications to access and deliver content, too often they struggle with managing these copyright permissions at the scale required to meet this need.
Obtaining permission to use these texts on an individual basis at scale can be difficult and time-consuming, especially as needs fluctuate. With the right solution, edtech providers can address their diverse licensing needs and, in turn, meet the need for high-quality content in today’s educational curriculum.
Jay Diskey is principal of Diskey Public Affairs LLC, which provides communications and government relations services in the policy areas of education, publishing, and technology. Prior to launching Diskey Public Affairs in 2017, Jay served as executive director of the Association of American Publishers PreK-12 education division. Earlier, he held senior communications positions in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education and on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce. Connect with Jay on LinkedIn.