Friday, February 17, 2012

Who owns the copyright in students' class notes?

You'd think it would belong to the students, right?  Well, a couple of universities are claiming otherwise in an effort to thwart those pesky websites selling course prep materials. From MindShift:

California State University and University of California campuses are taking new steps to limit what students can do with their class notes: At least one CSU Chico student recently was reported to judicial affairs for selling notes to a website, while a newly updated UC Berkeley policy restricts how students share their notes with others.

The policies raise questions about whether instructors or students have copyrights to the notes students take in class. While the California Education Code prohibits students and others from selling class notes – and many campuses have policies that also ban unauthorized note-selling – critics say students, not instructors, own the copyright to their own notes.

Some university officials say faculty members have the right to protect their professional reputation – they don’t want inaccurate or low-quality notes to be attributed to them. But others say the university policies are restricting students’ free speech.

“Given the amount of money students are paying to go to school right now, to … confront them with these policies and say, ‘You don’t even have the right to use your own notes any way you want,’ seems to be the wrong message to be sending,” said Jason M. Schultz, assistant clinical professor of law at UC Berkeley and director of the university’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic.

The CSU and UC systems have made efforts to shut down private note-selling websites for some time. As early as 1999, the note-selling website sparked officials’ furorat UC Berkeley. In fall 2010, CSU sent a cease-and-desist order to NoteUtopia, which allows students to upload course notes, study guides and outlines to a website, then set a price and earn cash for their work.

More recently, both UC and CSU have sent cease-and-desist letters to Notehall, a note-selling website owned by Santa Clara-based Chegg.

CSU sent its letterto Chegg in January after at least one student was reported to student judicial affairs for selling notes through the service. CSU Chico’s student newspaper, The Orion, reported that two students were referred to judicial affairs, but Lisa Root, the university’s director of student judicial affairs, said there has been only one case involving the note-selling policy in the past three years. She could not comment on the specific case. The one student named in the Orion story declined to talk to a reporter Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether the student was sanctioned or whether other universities in California have sought disciplinary action against students who have sold their notes to third parties.

The letter from CSU to Chegg cited CSU’s own student policies and the California Education Code, both of which prohibit selling, distributing or publishing class notes for a commercial purpose.

Notehall’s website indicates the company is no longer accepting notes from CSU or UC students. Users who try to upload notes for CSU or UC campuses see an error message.

Continue reading here.

Hat tip to Above the Law.


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