[Viewpoint]Authors’ rights

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[Viewpoint]Authors’ rights

The controversy over Korean modern history textbooks, which shook the nation throughout the second half of last year, ended on an absurd note. The publisher revised the content of the textbook without obtaining the permission of the authors.

And yet, a local court recently shot down an injunction filed by Kumsung Publishing Company’s writers to try and put a stop the copyright violations. Although the court recognized the writers’ copyright, it allowed the textbook to be changed without their authorization based on clauses in the contracts they had signed with the publisher. Written consent submitted by the writers and the publisher to the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation, the office in charge of approving the textbook, was also taken into consideration.

It is the court’s job to make a legal interpretation of the documents, but the decision was extremely disappointing for me, as a textbook author who believed the court’s role was to stop the unilateral revision by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the publisher.

This is a ruling that it will greatly affect our society, raising serious educational concerns. The relevant clauses on the contract are not limited to the modern history textbook published by Kumsung. They exist in most contracts that are approved by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation.

Furthermore, the written consent for possible revisions is not signed between the writers and the publisher. It is a mandatory document for applying for approval from the curriculum institute. Without the document, you can’t get official approval.

If those documents were the basis for allowing the texts to be changed without the authors’ permission, then this is not just a matter concerning this particular book.

It means that when an author signs a contract and submits the written consent, most of a textbook’s contents can be revised by the publisher on orders by the Ministry of Education. This not only violates the author’s copyright, but also destroys the spirit of the textbook evaluation system.

If the Education Ministry controls the content of textbooks based on such clauses, it’s as if the government itself wrote and published the textbooks.

If the documents will be abused for governmental purposes, all publishers must remove such clauses from their contracts with authors. And the Education Ministry must no longer require the written consent when approval is applied for. It is simply inappropriate for the ministry, the highest education authority in the nation, to look at the authors and say, “You’ve already given consent, so why complain now?”

The role of the Education Ministry is central in curriculum and textbook authorization. The ministry creates the curriculum, and it had approved the modern Korean history textbook after a proper review. The ministry is responsible for protecting the copyright of such a textbook.

And yet, it instead led the efforts to deny the copyright of a textbook that it had already approved. This is just ridiculous.

The Korea Federation of Teachers’ Associations, the nation’s largest teachers’ group, has issued a statement challenging the court’s decision, and asking that the ideological debate over the textbook come to an end.

The federation said that textbook evaluation must be unfettered by the political and ideological preferences of an administration. The federation also argued that each school should be given the right to independently select its textbooks.

The argument is persuasive. I hope for textbooks to no longer be the subject of such ideologically based controversy.

But why didn’t the federation make such a statement in the past? Why did it support the argument of the people who started this whole mess? Why did it stay silent when textbooks were changed without the consent of history teachers? Why didn’t it say anything when the schools were at the center of the conflict?

I truly hope that textbooks will no longer be used as a means to launch such offensives. Those who label textbooks as “leaning left” or “pro-North” just because they do not like them must stop doing so. They must stop using textbooks as a tool for ideological attacks. Only then can education be free from politics and ideology.

*The writer is a professor of history education at Korea National University of Education.

by Kim Han-jong
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