Marion has asked me not to "post any material from the books
listed for a few weeks" to allow input from the other owners of
G-L about copyright issues. The list she is referring to is a
list of grammars I said I was "using" while preparing the elem IG
I think some confusion has arisen about what I meant when I said
I was "using" these texts. I am consulting the texts to check that
my understanding of points of grammar is correct, i.e. "using" the
information in the texts, but NOT copying the text verbatim. Thus,
I have felt that I am not violating copyright in any way. Marion seems
to be worried that even this limited use of other texts in some way
will jeopardize good relations with authors and the reputation of
Gaelic-L. I am respecting her concern about this, and intend to
post only material that comes entirely from my own files during the
next week. I hope we will clear this matter up shortly, since I
worry a little about breaking the momentum that beginners have built
up in the beginning lessons of this series.
I have not shared Marion's concern about copyright, at least about
the lessons as I am preparing them now. However, thinking I might be
missing something, I took some sample lessons and books to the copy-
right officer at my own university, for an expert opinion. Our
copyright officer, Diane O'Brien, has for the last 5 years or so, been
responsible for vetting all printed instructional materials produced
by university teachers, to ensure that they do not violate copyright
in any way. This applies both to materials used in classrooms on
campus, and to "distance education" materials which are sent out for
correspondence courses. She works with the university lawyer in this
regard, and as a member of key committees, keeps up with changing
legislation. Since Canadian copyright law has been in flux, she and I
have had many discussions of the changing copyright situation over the
This is roughly what Diane had to say about the status of the elem
IG lessons as they are now being prepared:
(1) "use" of information from a document is not a violation of
copyright IF the actual text is not copied verbatim.
In other words, if I rephrase the information in my own words,
there is no violation.
(2) If the exact text is copied, it is not a violation provided
that not more than 300 - 500 words are copied -- or provided
that a whole item is not copied.
In other words, if we copy a whole poem, and the poem has fewer
than 300 words, it is a violation of copyright. For copies of
parts of larger texts, she says that the 300- 500 word limit
applies ... to be super sure, don't exceed the 300 word limit.
(Clearly, also, one cannot divide a larger document into 300
word chunks, and post them sequentially.)
Now, in elem IG I am NOT copying the words of the English texts of
the books I am referring to. I have rewritten everything in my own
words. I sometimes copy Irish phrases which have been put into the
lesson to illustrate points of grammar -- e.g. ar a mba/d -- but
these simple phrases are nowhere near the 300 word limit.
(3) A further point she made was that the phrases I am
copying in the lessons are, in fact, generic phrases from a
language ... e.g. ar a mba/d ... something which could be
said or written anywhere ... not a special creation such as a
poem or expression of a new idea or discovery. Citing examples
of natural language is not venturing into copyright-protected
territory -- or as Diane said -- "things don't get more "public
domain" that natural language!" Another words, "to be or not
to be ..." is copyrightable .. but "ar a mba/d", or "liom,
leat, leis " by their very nature, are not.
(4) She made another point about writing textbooks or lessons. She
said that usually when people write instructional material, they are
"reformatting" knowledge which is in the public domain (providing
they rewrite the material, and don't just copy it line for line.)
If, in writing lessons, you draw upon some new discovery or quote
some specific text, you are morally obligated to cite the source ...
(otherwise you could be accused of plagiarism for passing these
insights off as your own inspiration) -- but you do NOT require
the permission of the original authors of the works you are drawing
upon ... and you are not in violation of copyright... provided, of
course that you do not copy more than 300 words of a text verbatim.
Thus, if I were writing a textbook on language acquisition and
wanted to describe the findings of psychologists who have taught
language to chimps, I would not have to obtain the permission of these
psychologists to satisfy copyright law before including their work in
my book. Of course, standards of decent scholarship would require
that I cited their publications in the bibliography of the book.
This is how copyright works in N. America. Is there some
difference in Irish or British law operating here? I hope, Marian,
that you have someone like Diane at UCD that you can put similar questions
I am confident that I am not breaking any laws of the country I
reside in. If it should turn out that this way of operating is
not permitted in Ireland, we would have the alternative, I think, of
operating elem IG as an independent group on the Internet.
Obviously, this would not be nearly as good as operating through
Gaelic-L -- it really should stay on Gaelic-L if at all possible
-- but I think I would try the alternative rather than let this
experiment die altogether!