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Can homeschoolers make copies from a consumable workbook?

by | Oct 14, 2019 | Homeschooling

You’ve just bought a workbook to use in your homeschool. Or maybe you’re eyeing an activity book for a co-op class you’re teaching. Do you know your photocopying limitations and responsibilities? Is it OK to make copies from a consumable workbook? Are you confused about what is—or isn’t—allowed?

What’s the Difference Between Reproducible and Consumable?

First, let’s look at how reproducible and consumable books differ.

Reproducible Workbooks

Reproducible workbooks have very few restrictions. Typically created for single-classroom use, these books are designed for teachers who make copies and distribute the same pages year after year.

Homeschoolers also love reproducible workbooks. These include creative book report templates, math activities, science projects, and similar resources found online or in school supply stores. In a reproducible book, a typical copyright may say:

Permission is granted for individual classroom teachers to reproduce the pages for classroom use. Reproduction of these materials for an entire school system is strictly prohibited.

Consumable Workbooks

Unlike reproducibles, consumable workbooks are designed for one-time use. Students “consume” (use up) a book by writing in its pages. So unless the copyright allows you to make copies, plan to buy one consumable book for each of your kids.

As a rule, the United States Copyright Office disallows copying of “consumable workbooks.”

There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be consumable in the course of study or of teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, test booklets, answer sheets, and like consumable materials. Copying shall not substitute for the purchase of books, publishers’ reprints, or periodicals. — from Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians, U.S. Copyright Office. (Page 7, III B & C)

What Does the Copyright Page Allow?

Still, there are times when it’s okay to copy from a consumable workbook. But how do you know?

Start by reading the copyright page.

Buying a workbook—either reproducible or consumable—doesn’t automatically grant permission to copy its pages. So even if the book cover says “Reproducible,” don’t assume you’re free to make as many copies as you want!

Permissions vary from book to book, so find out what allowances or restrictions the copyright spells out. Here are five common scenarios:

1. When copyright gives permission to make copies for your immediate family

Often, homeschool publishers allow you to copy from a consumable workbook but limit permissions to your immediate family. Here’s an example of this type of copyright wording:

Permission is granted to make as many photocopies as you need for your own family’s homeschool use. All other use is strictly prohibited.

This is good news for homeschoolers! It means you can buy one workbook—and all your children can use copies of that book. But when it’s the last child’s turn, they’ll need to use up the original. You can’t resell it.

Different publishers have different copyrights. For example, although WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior allow copying within a family, it doesn’t mean all publishers extend the same grace.

2. When copyright allows you to make copies of some pages but not others

You can’t always run an entire workbook through the copier. Some books only let you copy certain pages, such as blank worksheets, checklists, or practice exercises. If the copyright says you may copy these pages but not others, honor the copyright.

You’ll see this type of copyright in WriteShop I and II:

This book may not be reproduced in its entirety; however, any fill-in-the-blank student worksheets and checklists may be reproduced for your immediate family’s use only.

How does this copyright permission play out in your homeschool when some pages aren’t reproducible? If Mason is referring to non-reproducible pages of a shared book, such as instruction pages or background information, Olivia may have to wait until Mason finishes before she can take her turn.

Sharing a book in this way may be inconvenient. Still, many families find a way to make do with one book—as long as they recognize their limited copying rights. They simply stagger the times when the kids use the shared pages.

3. When copyright permissions don’t extend to classroom use

Are you planning to use a consumable workbook as part of teaching a class? If so, know your permissions. Some books give more freedom to individual homeschool parents than to teachers. So always preview the copyright when teaching in a co-op, tutoring center, or classroom.

Here’s one example you might see:

Co-ops and schools may NOT photocopy any portion of this book. Educators must either purchase one book for each student or purchase a yearly site license that permits co-op and school duplication.

Many publishers, including WriteShop, offer school licenses or group discounts. Contact the publisher to learn your options.

4. When copyright gives permission to make unlimited copies

Are you free to make as many copies as you want for any use at all? It’s rare for a copyright to grant unlimited use. But if it doesn’t set any restrictions, you can print one copy or two dozen. And you can use the copies in your homeschool or pass them out at co-op class—guilt-free!

Again, don’t automatically assume. Double-check the copyright before you make copies from a consumable workbook.

5. When copyright denies permission to reproduce any pages at all

There’s no getting around it. When the copyright says you may not reproduce or save any portion of the text, don’t print copies for your kids or your class. The copyright text might say something like:

No part of this publication may be published, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted or copied in any form or by any means now known or hereafter developed, whether electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.

If making copies works best with your budget, a workbook with these limits is not the book for you. Instead, buy materials that let you make copies legally.

What about “fair use”?

The doctrine of fair use determines how to use copyrighted works in a classroom. The University of Chicago Copyright Information Center explains that teachers “should not distribute copies of ‘consumable’ materials such as test forms and workbook pages that are meant to be used and repurchased.”

Well-meaning teachers (and parents!) may think it’s fine to copy even just a lesson or two from a workbook—whether to avoid buying more books or to preserve the original for resale. But before claiming a “fair use” exception, first check out the five considerations of “fair use” to make sure you’re on solid ground.

Do the Right Thing

Most homeschool publishing companies aren’t getting rich off their products. Often, they’re small, family-owned businesses. They depend on curriculum sales to make ends meet. Yet many still offer generous copying permissions to homeschooling families like yours.

Your integrity is essential to copyright protection. Before making copies of a consumable workbook, always read the fine print to ensure you’re above board. When you uphold a product’s copyright, you’re doing your part to help homeschool-friendly companies stick around for a long time.

Want to learn more about WriteShop?

WriteShop curriculum will not only teach your child how to write, it will show you how to teach homeschool writing. All WriteShop products offer schedules, tips, activities, lesson plans, and checklists that help you teach effectively and edit and grade your children’s work with an objective eye.

What's the difference between reproducible and consumable workbooks? When is it OK for homeschoolers to make copies from a consumable workbook?