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The Courts Government Education News

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 timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:24PM (#22969734)
    The end game to all this will be copyright being abolished due to it being rendered unworkable.
  • Fair use (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mathnerd314 ( 1212880 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:24PM (#22969736)
    Wouldn't it be considered fair use since it's for educational purposes?
  • Re:Correction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot@castlesteelst o n e .us> on Friday April 04, 2008 @09:36PM (#22969844) Homepage Journal

    It is only an affirmative defense for a specific case
    Actually, four specific cases. In the original law, only three -- journalism, review, and education. The fourth, pardoy, was added by way of judicial interpretation of the unexplict statutes and underlying principles.

    It is not about whether all lecture notes will suddenly be found to be fair use. That is impossible by definition.
    Well, only in the sense that a lecture is usually not set in a fixed form, and so isn't covered by copyright in the form usually presented to students.

  • by mrbluze ( 1034940 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:10PM (#22969998) Journal

    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.

  • by AnyoneEB ( 574727 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:11PM (#22970000) Homepage
    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 lbft ( 950835 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:21PM (#22970062) Homepage
    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 pitchpipe ( 708843 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:29PM (#22970092)
    but most college professors suck. If they want to start treating their lectures as "Intellectual Property" I am fine with that, but they better damn well have a lot more "Intellectual" in them before they start calling them that.

    Really, what we need is for the best professors to produce video lectures, especially for the subjects that change little from year to year (calculus, etc.) The rest of the professors can do what they want without having to bore us with teaching a subject that they seem to have little interest in, and the graduate students can grade our work and answer our questions.

    Things seem to be heading this way, but not fast enough.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:32PM (#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:Ridiculous (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @10:51PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:06PM (#22970286)
    To the best of my knowledge, the works themselves are not under any form of copyright. Some scholars have suggested that fact as a reason why printed versions of his plays became very popular very quickly - they could be printed without worrying about copyright.
  • by rizzo420 ( 136707 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:25PM (#22970370) Homepage Journal
    How is publishing his own original research a breach of ethics? Professors everywhere already do just that. Most do it in journals related to their field, while some may also publish a book or something similar based on that research.

    And since when are all college courses simply "standard knowledge in a field"? Clearly, you have not taken any higher level college courses beyond the requirements for a bachelors degree. Professors teaching a doctorate, or sometimes even masters, level course most definitely teach based on their own original research. I've even taken undergraduate courses with professors who taught based on their own research to a certain degree. In that case, it was only to enhance the "standard knowledge", but in many graduate level courses, it's the original research that is being taught.

    I will say that I do agree that this whole copyrighting of lecture notes is a bit crazy, but only when you consider that some entrepreneurial student might try to sell their lecture notes from this class, which I consider to be legally questionable in the first place, regardless of whether or not a professor is doing it himself.
  • Re:Correction (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ralconte ( 599174 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:43PM (#22970446)
    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, people will still go to college for the degree.
  • Re:Correction (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Friday April 04, 2008 @11:50PM (#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.
  • Re:Correction (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frequency Domain ( 601421 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @12:32AM (#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.

  • by Snowspinner ( 627098 ) <<philsand> <at> <ufl.edu>> on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:45AM (#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 Panoptes ( 1041206 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @01:54AM (#22971020)
    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:Relevant (Score:5, Interesting)

    by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @02:18AM (#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:3, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @02:35AM (#22971178) Homepage
    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 will be a perpetual wheel.

  • Re:Ridiculous (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Saturday April 05, 2008 @05:16AM (#22971610) Journal

    That link kind of disproves your point:

    Six readily accessible chapters were later compiled into a book entitled Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, and six more in Six Not So Easy Pieces: Einstein's Relativity, Symmetry and Space-Time.

    Sounds like a textbook to me.

    Look -- a lecture, almost by definition, is not engagement, it's presentation, and a presentation can simply be duplicated. Anything good in a lecture is either already published, or likely to be published soon. For that matter, sometimes lectures are recorded, and effectively become a textbook themselves -- or at least another reference material.

    Again: A lecture is not engagement. A conversation is engagement. Some professors choose to have a conversation and call it a lecture, which is probably a better way of teaching, and cannot be duplicated. There are certainly other ways of teaching. While I am mostly self-taught, Wikipedia is no substitute for an actual classroom -- but the lectures themselves, at least, contain nothing in the way of facts or understanding which cannot be found elsewhere, even in print.

    And I'm sorry you can't find passion in textbooks or papers -- you must not have found very good ones, then. There are at least two separate books I've read on programming which got me excited about it, taught me to see it as an art, and fed my imagination with possibilities -- and that's on programming, even introductory programming, which you would expect to be a dry subject.

  • Re:Right to Read (Score:2, Interesting)

    by garutnivore ( 970623 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @08:39AM (#22972172)
    You complain that the comment was marked informative but you don't present evidence that it should not have been so marked. Is it perhaps that you don't have a case?
  • Re:Relevant (Score:2, Interesting)

    by August26 ( 1120999 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @10:32AM (#22972814) Homepage
    Professors are generally employees of the University or College where they lecture. According to the U.S. Copyright Office:

    Although the general rule is that the person who creates a work is the author of that work, there is an exception to that principle: the copyright law defines a category of works called "works made for hire." If a work is "made for hire," the employer, and not the employee, is considered the author. The employer may be a firm, an organization, or an individual.

    To the extent the material provided by the Professor can be copyrighted (a big question), the copyright should belong to the University rather than the Professor unless they have an explicit agreement otherwise.
  • by Dire Bonobo ( 812883 ) on Saturday April 05, 2008 @12:26PM (#22973452)

    Professors teaching a doctorate, or sometimes even masters, level course most definitely teach based on their own original research.
    In a classroom setting, this doesn't happen and is irresponsible at the very least. The research needs to be peer reviewed before its taught in a classroom.
    Nobody in my field agrees with you.

    In upper-level classes, it's expected that profs will talk about their own research to a certain extent, both to attract students who are interested in working on it and to excite students with knowledge and ideas that are cutting edge. Accordingly, they'll talk about their current research projects, which typically will include a mix of published and unpublished work.

    If the work is good - and it's not that hard to tell that about your own work - it doesn't really matter if you talk about it before it's peer-reviewed to students in a seminar-style course. They're there to get a taste for the field, learn some cool things, and get their hands dirty in cutting-edge projects of their own. Giving them a peek at research that's taking shape isn't "irresponsible", it's a valuable piece of moving students from thinking about assignments to thinking about research.

    If a student took my notes, polished them up to the point that they could be sold, sold them for a profit, and proved to me that she did it, I'd bump her final grade up a letter if she didn't already have an A.
    That's your choice to make; don't presume you have the right to make it for anyone else.

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