Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Professorial Industry Association of America?

Call me a Luddite, but I tend to shy away from purchasing items electronically. If I face a choice between downloading an album and buying a CD, I tend to buy the CD. The one exception that I made was to buy an electronic copy of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" - a song that I can no longer access because the music service from which I purchased it no longer exists, and I have no idea where I put the access code to remove the copy protection from the song.

Well, at least I know that I own what I write - provided, of course, that I was not writing it for my employer. I'm never planning on attending graduate school again, but if I did, I have the assurance that any notes that I took in class would be mine, and that I could do whatever I wanted to with them.


Ryan Stevens...runs a site called NoteUtopia, which is “an organic document marketplace where students can upload and download all of their class documents, including class notes, study guides, handouts, reports, quizzes and more.” The site also lets students rate professors, discuss projects, collaborate, and more. It allows them to sell their notes or other work, suggesting prices from $1 to $5.

That fact is what has landed Stevens on the wrong side of cease-and-desist orders from the California State University system.

You see, it turns out that the California Education Code prohibits dissemination of academic presentations for commercial purposes, including "a recording made in any medium, including, but not necessarily limited to, handwritten or typewritten class notes."

In Internet Evolution, Dee-Ann LeBlanc commented:

In some ways, as a writer, I don’t see thorough lecture notes as much different from an article detailing the contents of a conference talk. Except that note takers are probably focusing less on getting all of the details and more on capturing thoughts that occur to them during the discussion.

And that's a key point. If anything, notes are a collaborative work between the professor, the student, the song that was on the radio that morning, and the t-shirt worn by another classmate. Unfortunately - or fortunately - I have not saved my class notes from my secondary and post-secondary years, but if any professor would be foolish enough to claim ownership of them, they'd be the laughingstock of the academic community.
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