The Copyright Challenge

Following is the eleventh of a series of posts by participants in the Spring 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Cecilia María Salvi (she/her) is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Anthropology Program. Her research investigates the democratization of literature carried out in Latin America by editoriales cartoneras. She is a Chancellor’s Doctoral Incentive Fellow and an OIS Fellow, and currently teaches at City College. 

Whenever I get a new teaching assignment, my first thought is about designing the syllabus. It’s like planning a road trip for the semester—what sights do you want to see again (i.e., articles and assignments you’re keeping from a previous semester), what new adventures do you want to go on (i.e., what new readings and teaching methods will you use)? I’m still passionate about teaching even after 15 years because I get to share my interests with students who are genuinely curious about the world. My family and friends may not want to listen to an exhaustive breakdown of the latest article I just read, but my students will.

As an educator, I spend a lot of time reflecting on teaching methods and materials, because I want to engage students from all walks of life and with different interests. The Open Pedagogy Fellowship presented an opportunity to both challenge myself as an educator and address a problem I’ve come across every semester when it’s time to update the readings on the syllabus. I’ve had the opportunity to teach a number of different classes on Latin America at City, Queens, and Lehman, but when I want to include works by scholars from the region, many of the most thought-provoking or relevant works are not available in English, and they may or may not be accessible in the U.S. How do I teach about decolonizing knowledge when I can’t put it into practice?

What I learned during the three weeks of the Fellowship workshops changed my perspective on the relationship between class reading materials and engaged teaching—and I ended up learning a lot more than I expected. One obstacle to overcome was my perspective on copyright. My research focuses on a literary movement of small-scale, independent cardboard publishers (editoriales cartoneras) in Latin America. Many of my interlocutors express little concern over copyright infringement, a perspective that I share. Some do use Creative Commons to protect their own writings and will only publish authors with their permission, but for so many others, photocopying copyrighted work is part of their political philosophy—it challenges the commercialization and monetization of knowledge by making expensive books available to anyone at a fraction of the cost. 

So, ignoring copyright had previously been the easiest solution for me, and one aligned with my politics. Learning about OER materials gave me an alternative—I recognize the immense labor that goes into creating teaching materials, including lectures and syllabi, while at the same time acknowledging the social and ethical responsibility we have to the public.

I also appreciated learning from other participants. All educators bring something to the table, and the group discussions highlighted that. This was especially true on the last day when we presented our course sites. It was wonderful to see the variety of approaches participants/fellows took towards engaging students, as well as how each person’s teaching philosophy was integrated into their course design and content.

I am currently using the OER materials I assembled during the workshop to create two courses on Latinidad for the spring semester, one on feminisms and the other on transnational migration. Even though I now have many new readings available, the challenge of how to accurately represent, highlight and teach about Latin America using the works of scholars, activists and artists from the region persists. The workshop organizers acknowledged the imbalance between the availability of scholarly work from the Global North and Global South (including the dominance of English-language sources) and from communities that are underrepresented in academia, but this is still an unresolved aspect of OER.  

For anyone who is as interested in course design as I am, I’d like to share the following sites that have some wonderful resources about and from Latin America. Enjoy!

Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales:

SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online): 

Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y El Caribe, España y Portugal:

Hipatia Press:

Español Abierto:

Course site:

Photograph taken by the author.

About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.