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Lecture Notes Considered Infringement 385

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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  • by pbhj ( 607776 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:35PM (#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 ...
  • by gnutoo ( 1154137 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:37PM (#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.

  • Re:Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:41PM (#22969868)

    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:Fair use (Score:5, Informative)

    by hcmtnbiker ( 925661 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:51PM (#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 AmericanBlarney ( 1098141 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:52PM (#22969918)
    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.
  • Re:Ridiculous (Score:4, Informative)

    by The -e**(i*pi) ( 1150927 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:01PM (#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. []
  • Re:Correction (Score:4, Informative)

    by capologist ( 310783 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:01PM (#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.
  • by Princess Aurora ( 1134535 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:08PM (#22969990)
    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 pay that person much. Now, say the university feels that this person is unlikely to repeat his results and denies him tenure. If the university were to own the work, they could just cut everyone loose, stifling the incentive for professors to work toward great results. Furthermore, the university could prevent that professor from presenting the work to others or otherwise publishing, thus making the professor equivalent to a post-doc to other universities--meaning the time spent at that university went to waste completely. Having professors own their own work affords protection for the untenured, as well as the tenured--a university could put a gag on things they don't like if they owned the work, or otherwise prevent its publication.

  • Re:Ridiculous (Score:3, Informative)

    by aztektum ( 170569 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:38PM (#22970144)
    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:Correction (Score:4, Informative)

    by GeffDE ( 712146 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:05PM (#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 @11:17PM (#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.
  • by DustyShadow ( 691635 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:25PM (#22970374) Homepage

    This is a company ripping off someone's copyrighted work.
    Well, the first question in any copyright case is: "Is there a copyright?" There's an easy answer in this case to that question. I'll let you guess.

    There can be no "ripping off" when you have no copyright.
  • Did you read the article? He claims they copied what he wrote down on overhead projector transparencies.
  • Re:Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by GeffDE ( 712146 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:43PM (#22970450)
    I am no lawyer, and definitely not a judge, but the applicable section [] 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?
  • by TheNucleon ( 865817 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:54PM (#22970506)
    Good grief. School is for learning, not money. There, I said it. The copyright implications of this are just a symptom of the wrong focus on all sides.

    The over-the-top monetization of the university experience is apparent:

    Students treat college as a necessary evil that will lead them to jobs (therefore, money).
    Universities are charging excessive, through-the-roof tuitions which will take students years to pay back.
    Students are buying notes instead of sitting in the classroom taking the notes.
    Other people are sitting there taking notes with the express purpose of selling them.
    A semester's textbooks can cost more than the starving student's automobile.
    Now we have professors filing lawsuits to protect the dollar value of their lecture IP.

    After all this, universities have the gall to phone up alumni for donations. Many years later, my wife still can't shake the calls from her alma mater. They tracked us down in ANOTHER STATE.


  • 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:a tough call. (Score:4, Informative)

    by schon ( 31600 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @12:20AM (#22970632)

    Just because what is said is distributed openly to all attending, we are not allowed to re-distribute that information outside the company.
    What does that have to do with copyright?

    You are so wrong on so many levels it's hart to know where to begin correcting you.

    First of all, what is said in a meeting is not subject to copyright - if you write down your interpretation, that written transcript (if it's subject to copyright at all - see below) is copyrighted by you (unless you have a clause in your employment contract stating that your employer owns all creative works you produce during working hours - however you could just write it down after work and be safe.)

    Second, facts (which would cover 99.9% of what was said at such a meeting) are not subject to copyright, so copyright wouldn't apply there either.

    Now, if what is said in the meeting is a trade secret, then you might be forbidden from disclosing it, but copyright *still* wouldn't be applicable. Also, if what is said pertains to your company's stock, it might be considered insider information, which might also forbid you from profiting from it - but there is still nothing regarding copyright that would stop you.

    Copyright covers *copying* - not facts someone tells you. It's not "fact-right" or "information-right", it's copyright.
  • Re:Correction (Score:4, Informative)

    by epee1221 ( 873140 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @12:39AM (#22970748)
    You most certainly can wave your rights. Consider non-compete agreements, non-disclosure agreements, etc. It's also not unheard of for an agreement to involve waiving one's right to sue before a court/jury.
  • Re:Correction (Score:3, Informative)

    by jeepien ( 848819 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @05:04AM (#22971578)

    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 lecture hall.

    You can view the series at the Annenberg website: [].

  • Re:Right to Read (Score:3, Informative)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @11:03AM (#22973000)

    The successful Hollywood film ... is a potent expression of Hollywood culture and values
    Fixed. No need for thanks. *Rides off into the sunset*

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.