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Lecture Notes Considered Infringement 385

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the great-ways-to-encourage-and-enrich dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "According to a new lawsuit, taking notes in class is copyright infringement. Of course, it's not quite that simple. The professor is partnered with an E-book maker that wants to sell the material themselves, and the people taking notes pay students to take good ones, then sell copies to everyone else. But that just means that the case will hinge upon whether or not lecture notes are fair use. Either way, I wonder how long it will be before you will have to sign a EULA whenever you walk into class"
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Lecture Notes Considered Infringement

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  • Relevant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:21PM (#22969714)
    • Re:Relevant (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LrdDimwit (1133419) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:16PM (#22970608)
      Amen to that. Fortunately, this guy's lawsuit is going nowhere (note he's not a legal professor). The entire point of the notes is to take down the ideas contained in the lecture -- indeed, the point of the lecture itself is to transmit ideas! Unfortunately for this professor, ideas are not -- and never were -- copyrightable. Indeed, nobody would ever be able to make a new book, or movie, or song, were this not so; everyone borrows ideas, because at a certain fundamental level all stories are fundamentally the same. But worse, if ideas were copyrightable, then copyright becomes a kind of thoughtcrime.

      What you're not allowed to do is copy the way those ideas are expressed; selling transcripts of the professor's lectures would be a no-no. But assuming these notes are actual summaries of the concepts presented in class, this company is free and clear.
      • Re:Relevant (Score:5, Interesting)

        by twistedsymphony (956982) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:18AM (#22971114) Homepage
        Even if we were to make the jump that the professor's idea's are copywriteable then I'd have to ask the question of what exactly you're paying for when you pay your tuition?

        Theoretically aren't your paying for the transmittal and indefinite future use of the ideas discussed in the class? If not then what exactly are your tuition bills paying for?
        • Re:Relevant (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:54AM (#22971238)
          No, you're not getting a license to some ideas - the prof doesn't own them. You're getting a professional teacher teaching some subject matter and some recognition of that after the fact.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jamstar7 (694492)
          A piece of paper saying that you're EXTREMELY more qualified to do a job than the schmuck sitting next to you?

          Oh, and let's not forget the parties and the 'Girls Gone Wild' video shoots...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Z00L00K (682162)
        And don't forget - by writing the things down you will actually engage your brain much more and therefore improve the learning of what's taught.

        If notes were to be illegal then the students will learn less and therefore be of less use for the society in the future.

        Too much emphasis is made on copyright and patents today so the only profession left where you can make money will be as a patent or copyright lawyer. And since those that are applying and help to make the law are often lawyers themselves this

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by WalksOnDirt (704461)

          And don't forget - by writing the things down you will actually engage your brain much more and therefore improve the learning of what's taught.
          I always found the reverse. I could either pay attention and try to understand the ideas presented in the lecture, or I could write what I saw and heard for reference later. Which was more effective depended on the class. There was rarely time for both.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tgibbs (83782)
        Copyright does, however, protect the expression of those ideas--the order of presentation of those ideas, for example. So to the extent that the notes capture that expression, they may constitute infringement.
    • Re:Relevant (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CityZen (464761) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:52PM (#22970808) Homepage
      I was just thinking that professors should apply copyleft or perhaps GPL to their lectures.

      After all, if he or she is a REAL professor, he or she will want the knowledge to be spread & shared as much as possible.
    • Re:Relevant (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cattywhumpus (1098231) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:24AM (#22971132)
      No the lecture notes are NOT fair use. They're a completely new work and the copyright is owned by the student who took them. Remember, it's not the facts that can be copyrighted, it's the expression. Now if a court reporter took down the lecture verbatim, or someone recorded it, you might be able to make a case. But notes? No way. No how.
      • Re:Relevant (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:47AM (#22971210) Homepage
        And even recording a lecture may actually let the copyright fall on the recording party and not the lecturer.

        Go figure if you are recording a nature event like a bird - does the copyright on that movie go to you or to the bird?

        Or if you make a movie of some people doing a demonstration. Is it you or the people that get the copyright on that work?

        And don't forget that a lecture is fact filtered through the lecturer's view. And a recording will only catch that view from the view that the recording position will provide. This means that any different angle or position in the lecturing hall will provide a different view and therefore be a different work.

        And unless it's explicitly forbidden to record a lecture it will therefore mean that you may record it. But some may argue that it should be the other way around - you may never be able or allowed to record anything without a written permission - which means that we are going into a dark future. Owning a pen or pencil will be licensed, knowing how to read is controlled by the government or the big corporations. Thought police everywhere.

        The "Freedom to Read (watch)" should be derived of the "Freedom of Speech".

        • Re:Relevant (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tepples (727027) <tepples@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday April 05, 2008 @07:42AM (#22972192) Homepage Journal

          And even recording a lecture may actually let the copyright fall on the recording party and not the lecturer.
          That depends on the nature of authorship, which in the United States appears to be defined by case law. The person who fixes a live performance such a a lecture in a tangible medium may have a share of the authorship. But there is a concept of "neighboring rights" for performances, implemented in the United States through rules about unauthorized fixation [copyright.gov]. The personality rights laws of the several states cover the cases where that doesn't apply, as do the private real property laws of the several states when a property owner bans recording devices.

          Go figure if you are recording a nature event like a bird - does the copyright on that movie go to you or to the bird?
          I seem to remember an article about copyright in paintings by a chimpanzee. But I can't seem to find it in the noise results that Google returns, which mention copyright only in the sense of "this article is subject to copyright" rather than "this article is about copyright".
  • Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:24PM (#22969730)
    Taking lecture notes isn't what's claimed to be copyright infringement, only re-selling the notes for a profit. Fair use does not provide for commercial reproduction.
    • Re:Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

      by moderatorrater (1095745) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:32PM (#22969800)
      Fair use does allow for certain things to be reproduced commercially. How do you write an analysis of Shakespeare (a derived work that's covered by Fair Use, btw) without deriving it somewhat from Shakespeare? Cliff Notes are a commercial reproduction of the main points of the story; isn't that what lecture notes are?

      Furthermore, the university should be protecting these students by threatening to end the contract. If the book maker's going to be anal about this, they're going to be anal about something else that's important to the university. Also, an attack on the university's students should be viewed as an attack on the university itself. Every other college should be avoiding these guys like the plague too.
      • Re:Correction (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:41PM (#22969868)
        *Sigh*

        The meaning of fair use is as confused here as the meaning of Godwin's Law. Fair use is a defense, not a right. No material is fair use. That material is only used in a way where if it were to be challenged in a lawsuit, a fair use defense would prevail. How the material is used is just as important as what type of material it is. This is why you can't make a blanket protection with a fair use defense. For those who want a blanket protection, it is called public domain, GFDL, or CCL.
        • Re:Correction (Score:4, Informative)

          by GeffDE (712146) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:05PM (#22970272)
          Fair use is only a defense because it is a right. Just as the Copyright Act gives creators of creative works rights (such as a monopoly on distribution), it gives the people observing* those creative works rights too. If fair use were not a right, then the fair use defense would not prevail. Though a strict definition for what constitutes fair use is not set anywhere (and must be proven at each trial), those people observing the copyrighted work have the right to use it fairly.


          *(Aside: those people are not 'consuming' because the work is not diminished in any way by the act of observing)
          • Re:Correction (Score:5, Informative)

            by DustyShadow (691635) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:17PM (#22970332) Homepage

            Fair use is only a defense because it is a right.
            Actually there is a big debate over whether Fair Use is actually a right. On one side, you have the argument that you can't invoke fair use unless you have infringed and thus it is only a defense. On the other, you have that argument that because cases like Eldred v. Ashcroft held that fair use is the Copyright Act's way of protecting Free Speech rights, then fair use is also a right.

            I unfortunately think it falls closer to the defense realm. I don't like that though.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Koiu Lpoi (632570)

              Actually there is a big debate over whether Fair Use is actually a right.

              That there's even a debate really shows what a sad state the whole copyright system is in.
            • Re:Correction (Score:5, Informative)

              by GeffDE (712146) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:43PM (#22970450)
              I am no lawyer, and definitely not a judge, but the applicable section [cornell.edu] of the Copyright Act clearly states

              ...the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
              That makes it pretty clear that fair use of a copyrighted work is a right because it protects the fair user from being held liable for copyright infringement. Naturally, fair use is also a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. My point in the previous post, which I suppose could have been more clearly indicated with this example, was that if you are sued for copyright infringement, you will not be held liable for infringement if you can demonstrate fair use (using fair use as a defense) because you have the right to fairly use copyrighted works, as explained in the above passage of the Copyright Act.

              Also, you invoke fair use as a defense when accused of infringing; the Copyright Act makes it clear that fair use does not constitute an infringement. The Copyright Act gave a number of exclusive rights to the holder of a copyright; the fair use doctrine says that those exclusive rights cannot infringe every citizen's right to use the copyright works for "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research." So, I don't know who came up with the idea that fair use is only a defense because you only invoke it when accusing of infringing, but it's stupid. Additionally, you only invoke your first amendment rights when accused of breaking the law; does that mean that the rights guaranteed by the first amendment are only defenses?
          • Re:Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:21AM (#22971128)
            THANK YOU for correcting the mistakes in this forum about fair use not being a right. When I see posts like that it makes me crazy about how uninformed people are, but I was at work and couldn't post back.

            But unfortunately you made some errors in your explanation as well, so please indulge me while I make some slight refinements to your argument and corrections.

            There is no question that fair use is a right. Just because it is also a legal defense doesn't matter - the two are not mutually exclusive.

            Hey, Slashdot dummies who never got any civics education in school? Here is the basic primer - play along now...

            The whole premise behind US government is that every person is endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. In order to protect these rights, citizens consent to the government placing a few restrictions on people - the whole purpose of the restrictions is to stop people using their rights in a way that takes away other people's rights. It's supposed to be a balancing act.

            So for example, my creator gave me the ability (the "right") to swing my arm around with my fist closed. There are a few laws that reasonably limit that, though. The essence of the state of those laws is as if they are saying, okay, swing your arms with closed fists all you like. We'll even specifically condone doing so and clobbering someone else's head under controlled circumstances (boxing). Otherwise, make sure when you're swinging you don't crash your fist into somone else's head, or property.

            So you wanna go out into a field and swing your arms when nobody is nearby? Of course, you have that right. Want to do so in your house, for ten hours straight - and even clobber your own furniture? Sure, you were born with that right. But we, the government that you created, are going to stop you if your arm swinging hurts someone else ... and only then.

            ALL US laws are like that - every single one. So when you think about the law, never talk about government giving people rights - under the US theory, that's impossible. You're born with 100% of the rights that you are capable of exercising.

            Instead, start from the premise that you have the right to do ANYTHING you want ... unless for some reason because you could hurt other people, there is some limited government law slightly restricting your right.

            So, repeat after me - fair use is a right. It's also a defense in copyright lawsuits (the nature of the defense is more accurately stated along the lines of "But, hey! I have a defense! I was exercising my rights!") Fair use is a right. There are a few restrictions on your originally 100% fair use rights, meant to protect copyright holders from being harmed by you. Those restrictions, and the way your fair use rights work in relation to those restrictions -- are described in part in copyright statutes.

            But there are reams of case law stating specifically that you have way many more fair use rights than are described in the statutes. Which of course is as it should be and only makes sense. You start from the premise that you have 100% ... and then check to make sure whether or not or how much your rights were whittled down a little.

            Okay, get it? Class dismissed now? You have rights. Use them freely. God wanted you to do so. That's why she made you the way you are. The only thing governments can do is take away rights. Hopefully, in limited fashion.

            And don't let uneducated Slashdotters (or, in all likelihood, industry trolls) ever tell you otherwise.
      • Out of curiosity, does anyone actually have the rights to Shakespeare's work (in its original form). Somehow I doubt he's collecting any royalties on them at this point.
        • by AnyoneEB (574727) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:11PM (#22970000)
          No, in fact, all of his works can be found on Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org], although you may notice a good number of minor differences from the versions you have seen before because any published edition has copyrighted touch-ups to the spelling and formatting.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:16PM (#22970024)
          Shakespeare's ghost does. Under new copyright laws, copyright is the creator's life + 50 years + creator's afterlife.
        • by westlake (615356) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:32PM (#22970116)
          Out of curiosity, does anyone actually have the rights to Shakespeare's work (in its original form).

          The "original form" doesn't exist.

          What we have are incomplete and sometimes contradictory readings based on the manuscripts that found their way into print.

          Shakespeare himself was perfectly capable of cutting and splicing scenes that ran too long or got in the way of a successful bit of stage business that appealed to an audience.

          His plays will always have to be edited for reading and performance.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Panoptes (1041206)
            William Shakespeare himself was a victim of piracy by Elizabethan and Jacobean printers, who would send their agents to see his plays in order to memorize and reproduce them for illicit reproduction and sale. An excellent account of this practice may be found in "Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates" by Alfred W Pollard. Plus ca change...
      • Re:Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Original Replica (908688) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:14PM (#22970326) Journal
        the university should be protecting these students by threatening to end the contract.

        Why do university students always forget that the professors are their employees? "The university" doesn't have to do jack, the students need to all drop all of that professors classes. It works, at my alma mater I saw a professor let go when his classes dropped to zero enrollment because he had sufficiently pissed off his students. I'm all for professors making a nice buck on the side, publishing or consulting or researching, right up until it starts to effect the quality of work that makes them professors; teaching the students.
        • Re:Correction (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Guppy06 (410832) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:50PM (#22970490)
          "Why do university students always forget that the professors are their employees?"

          The word you're looking for is "tenure."

          "It works, at my alma mater I saw a professor let go when his classes dropped to zero enrollment because he had sufficiently pissed off his students."

          And in mine I saw a university resort to either marking classes taught by "staff" or "accidentally" reversing which professors taught which sections, all to ensure that the students had already committed to their schedule before they stroll into class on the first day to see who will really be teaching them.

          Worst case scenario: put him on sabbatical for a little bit. Students move on, either by graduating or dropping out, so the collective memory of the student body only goes back so far.

          Actually, you should be listening to your own advice: the professor is the university's employee, so this money-making tactic probably has the implicit consent (if not the explicit endorsement) of the higher-ups in the continuing quest to milk money from the students.
        • I happen to have been one of those "employees", until just recently, and I was involved in a minor scandal regarding republishing of lecture notes. I was a Research Assistant involved in helping teach a Senior/Graduate level computer graphics course. As part of the course, we provided PDFs of the lecture notes and slides on the University's Moodle site for students to use as study aids. Two of the students decided they were going to get rich, started a commercial, advertisement supported website to host lecture notes, and took the PDFs from the Moodle site for our class and put them on there.

          There's three obvious problems with this:

          1) The files are marked "not for distribution outside of class"
          2) The files are available freely to anyone actually enrolled in the class, making a mirror pointless (especially one which makes the mirrorer money...)
          3) The slides, in addition to having copyrighted works of the professor and RAs teaching the class, include excerpts from textbooks and supplementary materials from the publishers, reproduction of which is legal in limited (ie: academic) circumstances by a Professor but expressly forbidden for commercial use. The distribution of them on the Moodle site was done only for the benefit of the students, but if the publisher were to find these materials being distributed from a commercial site and track their origin back to us, we could be held liable.

          In the case of us (the faculty) being held liable, we'd have no choice but to just NOT distribute any of these materials, which just screws over the students in the end (I'd like to see them pass the exam without them!). In the end, the two students involved were pointed to the notices on Moodle (and the syllabus) not to distribute the slides/notes and given a choice whether to remove the files from their site or receive an F... Thankfully they chose to remove the files.

          So you want to sell your lecture notes? Fine, but make sure they're YOU'RE lecture notes, not just a copy of what the Professor's provided... A better option would be to use something like Moodle inside your University to share notes between fellow classmates... If your University doesn't have something like Moodle/Blackboard available for students, get on their case.
        • Re:Correction (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Frequency Domain (601421) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:32PM (#22970704)

          Why do university students always forget that the professors are their employees?
          **BZZZT** So sorry, but thanks for playing!

          Students are neither the boss nor the customer, they are (one* of) the product(s). A campus' reputation rises and falls with the quality of its products.

          * - Research is the other major product. Several people have already noted that a lot of professors spend more time on research than on students. That's because like anybody else, they follow the incentive systems, and Department Heads, Deans, Provosts, and Campus Presidents all know that research grants put a lot more money in their hands than tuition does.

    • I think you are so correct. I hope your post gets modded up. There is nothing wrong with notes. But when it comes to profiting off them, that is another thing altogether.

      Could we by analogy compare this to paying a movie-goer to take notes during the movie, and provide a very detailed summary to a company planning on selling said summary?
      • Re:Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gujo-odori (473191) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:43PM (#22969874)
        Movie-goers who take detailed notes during a movie to later re-sell them for a profit are usually called "reviewers." A studio wouldn't have an ice cube's chance in hell of winning a lawsuit against a reviewer who published a movie review. Both the reviewer and the paper profit, and that's totally fair. There's nothing wrong with selling your lecture notes, either. Moreover, in every class I took in college, the lecture was sufficiently derived from the course textbook (none of which were written by the prof teaching the course) that there's no reasonable way a claim of infringement could stand up in court.
        • Re:Correction (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SL Baur (19540) <steve@xemacs.org> on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:33PM (#22970122) Homepage Journal
          What about in cases where the professor did write the book?

          The interesting case I can think of is a textbook like The Feynman Lectures in Physics, which are derived from lectures made when he taught Freshman Physics. Rumor had it that David Goodstein was doing the same thing the year I had Freshman Physics at Caltech - there were often filming crews brought in for key lectures (like the day he derived E=mc**2, to a standing ovation ...).
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jeepien (848819)

            Rumor had it that David Goodstein was doing the same thing the year I had Freshman Physics at Caltech - there were often filming crews brought in for key lectures (like the day he derived E=mc**2, to a standing ovation ...).

            Rumors were right. His ca. 1985 lectures, augmented with voiceovers, live actors, animations, etc., became a classic video series "The Mechanical Universe", that covered Newtonian mechanics, and later augmented to an "... And Beyond" version that added electromagnetism, relativity, and quantum theory.

            By now, millions of college and high school students (my students among them) have seen David L. Goodstein, and are still groaning at his puns, and chuckling at the 1980's college "fashions" seen in the

      • Re:Correction (Score:4, Informative)

        by capologist (310783) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:01PM (#22969960)

        Could we by analogy compare this to paying a movie-goer to take notes during the movie, and provide a very detailed summary to a company planning on selling said summary?

        A detailed summary of a movie is not copyright infringement. Such summaries are published all the time. Look up any popular movie in Wikipedia and you'll probably find a detailed summary.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ralconte (599174)
          You'll see some of the excessively long ones trimmed or deleted, with fair-use violations as the quoted cause. If you give away every possible detail of some movies, no one would want to see them. Likewise, if you photocopy your notes perfectly enough and sold them at a reasonable price, no one would ever go to college, they'd just learn from you. Granted, that's dumb, people are unlikely to read plot of the Matrix and go, "Well, I'm done, no need to see slow motion fighting in THX sound" And of course,
      • Spite (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Morosoph (693565)
        I get the impression that the professor wants to penalise those who couldn't make his lecture (and therefore understand his slant). So instead of having a purer skill-based outcome (since all are clued up as to the professor's outlook), insiders are to be preferred over outsiders.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LaskoVortex (1153471)

        Could we by analogy compare this to paying a movie-goer to take notes during the movie, and provide a very detailed summary to a company planning on selling said summary?

        In a word: no. The university has two objectives (1) create knowledge (i.e. research) and (2) disseminate knowledge (i.e. educating). TFA refers to the latter. The knowledge a university disseminates is not (should not be) intellectual property. Many borderline idiots will argue that students pay the university for this knowledge. These borderline idiots are confused. Students pay the university for the service of disseminating said knowledge to said students, providing a venue for said learning and, leas

    • by gnutoo (1154137) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:37PM (#22969854) Journal

      Fair use does include educational purposes, which is why professors are free to copy sections of text into "their" notes. These notes are sold exclusively to students. That might be covered. The whole point of the educational exemption was to make sure students get the best notes possible.

      The other issue is who really owns the notes. I can be sure that I own my homework solutions and essays even though they are "derived" from my notes. My lecture notes are something else but they are generally as variable as homework is. No two people's notebooks ever look alike. There are differences in layout and emphasis. More astute students will put in things from their texts and other sources. We're not talking about Gilbert and Sullivan productions here where the words and notes must be perfect, we're talking about an interpretation of a lecture.

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:24PM (#22969734)
    The end game to all this will be copyright being abolished due to it being rendered unworkable.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mrbluze (1034940)

      The end game to all this will be copyright being abolished due to it being rendered unworkable.

      It seems that in addition to death and taxes that copyright infringement is the third of the certainties everyone will encounter during their lives.

      This is really turning into a war between the greedy and the needy.

  • Fair use (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mathnerd314 (1212880) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:24PM (#22969736)
    Wouldn't it be considered fair use since it's for educational purposes?
    • Teachers have that right, not students.
      • by piojo (995934)

        Teachers have that right, not students.

        You say that as though "fair use" were well defined. If there's one thing slashdot has taught me, it's that there are several factors that go into determining whether something is fair use, and there's really no way to make a definitive judgement about it (unless you're... um, a judge).

        I'm sure there are circumstances where a student could be considered an educator (if they are a tutor, for instance).

        I believe that if an employer pays an employee to produce a work, by convention, the employer owns the copy

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          I wonder if the students could be sued for copyright infringement for writing something down on an exam the the professor said during the class. Think of what they are saying. They are saying you are not allowed to write down what the professor is saying, or I guess, summaries of that. So you probably wouldn't be allowed to write stuff down after you left the class. And oh, yeah, you wouldn't be able to write out the answers on the exam if it required writing something that the professor talked about in
      • Re:Fair use (Score:5, Informative)

        by hcmtnbiker (925661) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:51PM (#22969908)
        Not exactly....

        Copyright Title 17 Chapter 1 Section 107:

        Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
        Classroom notes easily fall under that. If someone didnt show up for a class your notes could effectively teach them the material. Or it could fall under research which you are sharing with the fellow student. It will be fun to see how this plays out, but I cannot imagine the teacher winning this case.
        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          I can not imagine somebody would want to be a teacher, and at the same time, try to stop their students from taking notes. I think this story missed april fools by a few days.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The students have fair use because they are using it for educational purposes. The companies re-selling the notes, however, are not using it for educational purposes but for profit-making.
  • The TEACHER is the one who should have to sign the EULA, since after all I am paying HIM.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No. You're paying the university, which has the right to accept or reject you and limit your behavior in various ways or for various reasons having to do with its overarching education mission. Don't like it? Try hiring a professor all on your lonesome.
  • No notes? (Score:3, Funny)

    by dws90 (1063948) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:27PM (#22969758)

    If this lawsuit succeeds, does that mean students won't have to take notes anymore?

    This may be the first fair use lawsuit where college students actually support the person suing!

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I'm not sure where you went to school, but most students I know actually wanted to take notes. So they could, oh, I don't know, study from them and pass the exams. This isn't grade 9. If you're going to university, you should be taking notes. Personally, I didn't take a lot of notes, as I felt I learned more by just listening. But I was sure to copy down anything that looked really useful, or at least a list of important topics so I could read about them in the text afterwards.
    • dws90: If this lawsuit succeeds, does that mean students won't have to take notes anymore?

      Worse, how much credit does a student get if he completely blanks on a test, thereby demonstrating that he's done his civic duty by not remembering someone else's intellectual property?

  • Ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Princess Aurora (1134535) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:28PM (#22969762)
    This is pretty ridiculous. If the professor wants to protect his copyright, then he shouldn't be putting the material up on the blackboard for everyone to freely see.

    Last time I checked, the point of going to class is to get notes and learn new material. If you are forbidden to take notes, why go? All the material from any class can be found in a textbook somewhere--and most college students can read on their own. Basically, the professor is telling you "Just buy my book," at which point the lectures themselves become almost pointless--one can stay home and just read the book, since you can't write anything down on your own, your lecture notes are the book. Furthermore, if you can't take your own notes, why pay for the class? Textbooks are cheap. Just buy it and read it.

    This professor is probably tenured, which is fortunate for him, since pulling a stunt like this is probably a one-way track to getting denied tenure.

    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:4, Informative)

      by The -e**(i*pi) (1150927) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:01PM (#22969958)
      In my school, North Carolina State University, you can be kicked out for preparing abstracts/transcripts of lectures (sounds like notes to me, and since i'm not the judge they can pick what it means) to sell to other students.

      http://www.ncsu.edu/stud_affairs/osc/AIpage/cheatingpolicy.html [ncsu.edu]
    • by westlake (615356)
      All the material from any class can be found in a textbook somewhere

      I'll take it as given that you have never attended a lecture or audited a course taught by a firs-rate teacher.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I took a course on assembly programming. The prof spent more than 1 lecture reading sections from the text which was basically a listing of the instruction set, and the definitions of the instructions. He wouldn't show us how to combine the instructions into useful programs. No, he would simply just read the instruction and it's definitiion straight out of the text, and then continue on with the next instruction. One of the worst classes I ever took. But the labs were kind of interesting.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I'm not sure what you're going for. If you mean to say, "People who just read the book are bad lectures," yes that's the case, but "textbook somewhere" doesn't necessarily mean that there's one book that contains EVERYTHING the professor says. However, if the professor is presenting good information, then someone else somewhere will have written it as well (or maybe the professor himself in his own book or published paper). Maybe it would take 17 books to contain everything that the professors says, but
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aztektum (170569)
      Last I checked, in most cases, students pay to take the class. Hence his "notes" on the blackboard aren't free to begin with.
    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Solandri (704621) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:51PM (#22970196)

      This is pretty ridiculous. If the professor wants to protect his copyright, then he shouldn't be putting the material up on the blackboard for everyone to freely see.

      Last time I checked, the point of going to class is to get notes and learn new material. If you are forbidden to take notes, why go?

      You're thinking of trade secrets. The whole point of copyright is to allow the copyright holder to disseminate his work in whatever manner he sees fit. If the professor wishes to share his lecture with students in a class but not with a company wanting to distribute it as an ebook, that is his prerogative. In other words, just because the professor consented to students copying his work for their own use, that does not mean he also granted the students (or the ebook company) the right to redistribute it.

      What's the difference with the *IAA? As far as I know, only the most extreme elements of the anti-*IAA movement believe copyright should be abolished. Most believe copyright is useful, but the pendulum has swung too far in favor of copyright holders. For the professor's actions to parallel the *IAA, he would have to be filing lawsuits against random students and ebook distributors in a fishing expedition. Instead, he's doing exactly what everyone here has been asking of the *IAA - track down through legal means exactly who is doing the infringing, and file suit against them.

    • ...and most college students can read on their own
      wow, what university do you go to? I want to teach there.

      Textbooks are cheap.
      Now I know you're making this school up!
  • A lawsuit can claim *anything*, it's only a problem if a judge/jury upholds a stupid claim. Inevitably there will be comments below about how bad the U.S. legal system is, but despite my (many) misgivings about this system I just don't see this case having any legs whatsoever. It's patently ridiculous, pun intended.

    However, this does not mean we all can't gnash our teeth over the story. Just remember to direct it at the dickhead who initiated this suit. I hope every U of Florida student that sees this a
  • by pbhj (607776) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:35PM (#22969830) Homepage Journal
    RTFA, please.

    The first sentence of the abstract is plain wrong.

    Taking notes from the lecturer on a course you've paid for (or the tax payer, depending on your location, has) is fine. You create a derivative of the lecturers copyright but it's either allowed contractually or fair use for educational purposes (again depending on jurisdiction).

    Making a "slavish" copy of the lecturers notes and then selling them is not allowed and impinges on the ability of the lecturer to sell his own work for publication. In this case I don't think it's just infringement it's also immoral.

    It's pretty straight forward.

    Now if the company were giving away copies of the notes then it might be interesting ...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) *
      Helping your fellow students and asking for compensation for the work you did and they couldn't be bothered to do is immoral? Man, what a fucked up world you live in.
  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:36PM (#22969836) Journal
    If I remember correctly, facts can not be copyrighted. Copyright implies that there is some creative work being done that should be compensated. Just as a list of telephone numbers can not be copyrighted, so shouldn't a list of facts.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lbft (950835)
      Whilst that agrees with my understanding, here in Australia a telco successfully sued out of existence a company that was selling a database of telephone numbers that they typed in manually from the phone book. If I remember correctly the argument was that there was creative work in the assembly of the list.
  • by MistaE (776169) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:37PM (#22969852) Homepage
    . . . when you enroll in your institution. The question should be, rather, when universities will put these absurd provisions in your contract before even allowing you to sign up for classes.
  • by fishthegeek (943099) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:37PM (#22969856) Journal
    There are only so many ways that one can say "Beavers build dams." Given that notes are brief statements of fact by definition I can not see how the notes can be considered derivative as they are nothing more than statements of fact in most cases. There might be a small case if the entire lecture were recorded verbatim and then sold as such but there isn't a college student within a gazillion miles that will write that much that fast. This seems analogous to the evening news where simply repeating facts regardless of the source represents no copyright infringement.
    My favorite quote from TFA is

    But James Sullivan, Faulkner Press' attorney, says the suit isn't about money for the professors, it's about protecting its intellectual property.
    followed at the end of the article by

    The lawsuit seeks any profits made off of the Moulton study guides.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Given that notes are brief statements of fact by definition I can not see how the notes can be considered derivative as they are nothing more than statements of fact in most cases.

      LOMFLMAO. So, I studied for 15 years and practiced teaching for 10 so that I could robotically enunciate mere facts? "Mercury is a liquid at room temperature. Bears hibernate. Aristotle was not Belgian. etc. etc. etc." What do you think a professor is? A fact-beacon? Beaming out facts to illuminate naturally occurring ambient students?

      • No he didn't say that, he said lecture notes are.

        And by the way, did you personally invent or discover everything that you teach? If not, then how can you lay claim to ownership of the intellectual property? Maybe you have some license payments headed your way...
      • Congratulations, you're a teacher. But the facts that you're giving as notes are - by virtue of them being notes - facts. I can't infringe upon 'mv^2' or 'm*a'

        Now if this was about his analysis of the facts, he might (but probably doesn't) have a case.

        A teacher does more than 'robotically enunciate mere facts' - they help you understand the 'why' of facts and how they're useful. Why the net force of a constant-velocity object is 0 (but I'm pushing it!). Why the Russians acted the way they did in the 1
  • The lawsuit seeks any profits made off of the Moulton study guides

    Seems like a little Hollywood Accounting [wikipedia.org] could easily show that there is no profit for that particular guide...

  • by capologist (310783) on Friday April 04, 2008 @08:52PM (#22969914)
    Why does a professor have a copyright on his lectures, anyway?

    When I was working for a software developer and wrote code, I didn't get a copyright on the code. My employer owns the code the code that I wrote.

    The same way my employer paid me to create code, the school pays the professor to create and deliver lectures.

    If anybody owns a copyright on those lectures, shouldn't it be the school?
    • by BorgCopyeditor (590345) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:06PM (#22969986)

      The same way my employer paid me to create code, the school pays the professor to create and deliver lectures.

      Bzzzt. No, I'm sorry, that is not correct, but thank you for playing. The analogy you were looking for was doctor to hospital, doctor ... to ... hospital. We'll be right back with more "Guess The Terms of My Employment" after these messages.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      No, work at a university is very different from the usual work-product for companies. Tenure and professors owning their own material is designed to prevent abuse from universities. Because the purpose of universities is the advancement of knowledge and not commercial gain (like your code example), there needs to be some protection afforded to those doing the actual advancement.

      An example. A professor does great research at a particular university. Not being tenured yet, the university doesn't have to

    • by proxima (165692) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:29PM (#22970094)

      Why does a professor have a copyright on his lectures, anyway?

      If anybody owns a copyright on those lectures, shouldn't it be the school?

      This is an interesting difference between academia and the business (i.e. "real") world. I suspect that it comes from a combination of considerations and cultural aspects:

      1.) Professors do research, and submit that research to journals for publication. Those journals often require the professor to sign over the copyright of the paper before publication. It's easier for professors to do that if they have the copyright in the first place.

      2.) What about lectures? Some (a few) professors make a ton of money (or little money and a lot of recognition, in some cases) by selling their books. These books start out as lecture notes, typically, especially at the graduate level. Professor's salaries don't vary that much, so this is one way in which the better/harder working/better known professors can earn relatively more pay. That keeps them at a university that can't afford to pay them what they'd get if they quit and just published their textbooks, which is good for the university.

      3.) A big consideration is probably the culture that a professor's work is not so much for the university itself, in the sense that professors move between universities all the time and take their research/lab/lecture notes with them. Would you honestly expect professors to have to somehow re-write their lecture notes upon moving to a different university? It just doesn't happen.

      4.) Tenured faculty have a fair bit of power over university policies, if they collectively put their minds to something. While works created by staff and non-faculty might be the automatic property of the university, faculty (in the U.S. at least) typically get the copyright for much of what they create.

      It's tempting to draw parallels between programming and research/lecture notes. The cultures, though, are quite different. In general, academics share their resources pretty openly, at least up until the point it becomes a textbook. To the extent that academics write code, it often isn't under an explicit license at all (which can be inconvenient if you want to properly include it in something for redistribution).

      Patents are another issue altogether, and one where the university stands to make a great deal of money. I'm not at all familiar with the general breakdown of rights about those, but it seems that both the inventors and the university get a cut in many cases.

      So what's up with this professor? It sounds like somebody is peeved that his students aren't attending class and would rather pay somebody to come in and take notes for them. Many good professors do the exact opposite and post class notes online, though they may not include quite everything that's worth getting from a lecture.

      If notes were a substitute for a good lecture, most of us would learn by buying the best notes from the best professor in the world on a subject (which is only sometimes available as a textbook). On the other hand, a bad lecture is worse than a decent set of written notes. The solution is not to sue them, but to improve your lectures!
  • This is why I find much of the academic community to have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. Does the professor have some intellectual property claim to the knowledge? Maybe. Does he have a right to make some money by sharing that knowledge? Certainly. Isn't that what the university salary is for? I think so.
  • I keep hearing about this sort of nonsense, but I have yet to experience anything even remotely resembling it for myself. I'm a science and math student; maybe it's limited to the liberal arts? I suspect every one of my professors would most likely be opposed to preventing the spread of course material!
  • When I did the college thing in the 90's the instructors would put all their notes slides in public folders to do with what you please.

    Now the damned profit motive has moved into the classroom.
  • by aegl (1041528) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:03PM (#22969972)
    Lecture (noun) : The process by which the notes of the teacher are transformed into the notes of the student without passing through the brain of either.
  • Does Florida have a freedom of information act? The lectures are a work product for the university. This is the university of Florida, which I think makes it a stat university, so the university is the state, and the state (I hope) has no secrets. So the lecture contents can't be secret.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:18PM (#22970030) Homepage

    I don't think the case'll turn on whether taking notes is fair use as on whether or not the student's notes constituted a copy of a protected work. Facts, remember, can't be copyrighted. I can write down stock market quotes and republish them in my own format all day and the source I get them from can't (absent some contract with me) touch me. The prices are facts, not expression. I can't copy their layout and formatting, but the numbers themselves are fine. So the question would be, are a student's notes recording, in their own words with their own formatting and layout having nothing to do with the professor's written lecture papers, the lecture a copy of the professor's work, as opposed to a wholy new work embodying the facts the professor used in his work? I think the simple analogy should convince the judge: "Is a movie review, summarizing the movie in the reviewer's own words and without copying any footage or exact lines from the movie itself, a copy of the movie?". The likely answer to that question is "No.", and the same for the notes.

  • I'm against everyone who thinks information is property. I give out my ideas freely for people to use them, and I admire people that code things for open source.

    Q: Why can't the internet just be one global library?
    A: Because people are greedy bastards that want to use information to make money.
  • I'm missing something. The guy's at work, but he's selling part of his work product to someone else? I could see the university making this sort of a deal, but I'm not sure how the professor can claim rights to the work that the university is paying him for.
  • The reason that we fund public universities, the reason that we fund public education, is to promote the creation and distribution of knowledge. To distribute such information efficiently, there has to be a minimum of regulation to hinder the efficiency. Likewise, persons nibbling at the public purse cannot be allowed to misuse such funding for personal gain.

    This professor is paid to deliver effective lectures to the students. The students and the country has already paid for that service. The action o

  • by MosesJones (55544) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:49PM (#22970186) Homepage

    The lawyer is James Sullivan... where have I heard that before.. ahh yes Monsters Inc [imdb.com]. So now it becomes clear, making kids laugh wasn't enough either, now its back to getting Slashdot to scream on mass by attacking fair use.

    Smart ploy Sully, smart ploy, it'll get us out of this energy crisis for sure.

  • by DustyShadow (691635) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:05PM (#22970270) Homepage
    TALA (This ain't legal advice)

    Defense #1: The work must be fixed for this dude to claim copyright.

    17 USC 102(a) - "Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression . . ."

    17 USC 101 - ". . . A work is âoecreatedâ when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time . . .

    A work is âoefixedâ in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration. . . "
    So. . . If the professor is not either reading from a pre-prepared script or recording his lecture, he cannot claim copyright in it in the first place. This is pretty basic copyright law that students learn in the first day of a copyright course. I'm sure that his lecture is read from his notes but it is unlikely that it is read directly from it and I highly doubt he is recording it (which could be a way of fixing it that would give him copyright in it, assuming that it is copyrightable material.).

    Defense #2: Dude probably owns no copyright even if it is fixed.

    Facts are not copyrightable. This is even more basic shit that has been said by many courts including the Supreme Court. Assuming this guy is teaching a standard subject, the things he teaches are not owned by him. He cannot seriously try to claim copyright in the history of the United States or the Pythagorean Theorem (I haven't RTFA so I don't know what he teaches). The only possibility for a copyright here is what is called a "thin copyright" which would be in his "organization of the facts." So he's gotta prove that the notes taken by these students are organized EXACTLY as he organized them. And that may not even work. If it is some basic subject where the organization of teaching it is basic, (such as any professor teaching history would start from early then move to later, or any math professor starts at 1+1 then moves to 1+2) then the organization would be so basic as to not warrant any copyright.

    So my point is: defendant's motion for summary judgment that cites heavily to Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service [wikipedia.org] is hereby granted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by argent (18001)
      Did you read the article? He claims they copied what he wrote down on overhead projector transparencies.
  • by Snowspinner (627098) <philsand@nOsPaM.ufl.edu> on Saturday April 05, 2008 @12:45AM (#22970988) Homepage
    It is worth noting, UF has been critical of the practice of profiting off of course materials for some time - and Moulton has been expressly targetted for criticism. This [gainesville.com] is an older article on the situation.

    As someone who teaches at UF, the opportunities to distribute material to students for free or without profiting are numerous - there are multiple places that will print coursepacks within walking distance of the University, and the library provides an excellent electronic reserves system over which digital materials can be distributed. The only reason to distribute course notes for $50-100 electronically, as Professor Moulton does, is to make money off of your students.

    Other professors at UF, as described in the article, offer $30 e-workbooks of extra credit through companies they own - in other words, directly allowing students the option of paying the professor for higher grades.

    The depth of conflict of interest involved here is disgusting. Regardless of the legal merits of the case (I am not a lawyer and do not know), UF should forbid this sort of naked profiteering off of students.
  • by wikinerd (809585) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @03:09AM (#22971450) Journal

    In 99% of the cases, professors do not teach anything original or new in the class. Whatever they say is usually already included in scientific papers or books. When taking lecture notes you do not need to record everything the professor says, you only need to capture their references to concepts, ideas, discoveries, research, studies, or other identifiable things so that you can know what your professor wants you to know. You then just open your books or search the academic literature and learn what you need to know (and at a much higher level than your classmates, I would say). For example, if during the lecture the professor refers to the OSI model, you write down in your notes "OSI" and then you open Andrew S. Tanenbaum's "Computer Networks" book at your home and find the relevant pages either by memory (if you had previously read the whole book) or the index (under the term OSI, it's actually pages 37-48 in the 4th edition). As simple as that!

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