The Ministry of Education's head office on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.

Lawyers representing book publishers are threatening to sue the Ministry of Education, and even teachers, for reproducing school books during online learning and to distribute among learning packages to those without computers.

The lawyers have sent another letter to the Ministry, similar to one sent on March 30, warning of breach of copyright.

The letter was sent on September 10 by the law firm de Verteuil-Milne Associates which acts on behalf of the Book Industry Organisation of T&T (BIOTT) and the T&T Reprographic Rights Organisation (TTRRO).

The latest letter made reference to the one sent in March.

“In our said letter we drew the Ministry’s attention to the fact that school textbooks and other literary works are protected under copyright and, where applicable, under trademark law and that copyright is a property interest.”

It continued, “This means that the copyright owner has the exclusive right to undertake, and authorise others to undertake a number of activities in relation to his work including copying, adapting or otherwise transforming school textbooks and other literary works.”

“It is, therefore, illegal to do so unless permission is obtained from each individual copyright holder or, where appropriate, through a license with TTRRO. To be clear, copying school textbooks and other literary works means reproducing them in any material form.”

The letter explained that this included storing them in any medium by electronic means, such as on the memory of a computer; uploading material from digital storage devices on to a community online; and downloading digital transmissions from digital networks like the Internet.

The firm noted that breach of copyright can result in a fine of $250,000 and ten years imprisonment and added, “In certain circumstances, a principal, teacher, IT professional or any other person involved or implicit in the offence could be held personally responsible.”

In reference to the guidelines issued by the Ministry for this school term, the law firm noted that teachers are expected to take responsibility for delivery of the curriculum via remote methods which include the production of learning materials and the provision of printed learning materials to schools.

They argued, “This is not the case here where our client has available and has offered a collective license to the Ministry as well as teaching institutions. Please understand that The Ministry is not exempt from copyright infringement and it is not empowered to authorise the unlawful use or reproduction of published works.”

“In the circumstances, we urge you, for the protection of your organisation and any and all teachers under your purview, to ensure that no material is printed, distributed or uploaded or in any other manner disseminated without the appropriate license so as to amount to copyright infringement.”

The law firm said that while it recognised the extraordinary situation brought about by COVID-19, “the mere fact that students no longer need to go into a store and physically purchase books, does not mean that the authors and publishers of those very books ought to be deprived of the income from their works.”