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Who Owns College Students' Notes? 339

hotfries writes "The Business Journal serving San Jose has an article about Study 24-7, a company that pays students to post their college notes to a national web site. This has raised concerns at UCLA, who argue that the practice violates the intellectual property rights of their professors. "
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Who Owns College Students' Notes?

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  • We go to school for the lectures and one-on-one instruction, not to mention the group-type activities. There are certain things that can't be gained from reading a book - or in this case, notes.

    I don't know if it's just that I'm particularly dense, but I *cannot* take notes and think at the same time. Some of my lecturers take the sensible step of giving out photocopied notes, in which case I can concentrate on the lecture and get a great deal out of it. But if I'm concentrating on deciphering some professor's light grey 11-point scrawl on a mid-grey blackboard across the room, then I don't have time to process any of the information. (I guess this applies more to scientific lectures, where it's important to get every symbol down.)

    One of my physics teachers used to stop people from taking notes while he was speaking. "We're thinking now, not writing," he'd say. That, IMO, is the right approach.

    Does anybody else find this, or do people learn to multitask?


  • The objection, I am sure, lies primarily in the fact that the individual is not allowed to profit from his own ideas But the professor is profiting from his ideas, as is his right. It's called his employment as a professor. In addition, at UCLA they sell professor-approved lecture notes. I would argue that the students also have the right to profit from *their* work, the notes they took.

    ...and what of the "poor" engineer who is employeed in Silicon valley, that is forced to sign an NDA (et. al)? He, too, is gainfully employeed. It is called a job; not so different.

    My concern with verbatim notes being profitably distributed over the internet is that they might force the professor to dumb down his notes--choosing instead to wait until he can publish, copyright, or patent his work. I know some of my professors have discussed various theories of theirs...to be folded into their next publication...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    So UCLA is still in a twit over this?

    I was a student there in the late 1960's & there was a class notes company with the same business plan ... only they used those new-fangled Xerox machines to copy the notes.

    I had one prof who got really bent out of shape because of someone else's copyright on his words. And I had another who encouraged us to buy the notes so that we could concentrate on the lecture, & not on taking notes. But most of the instructors didn't seem too concerned one way or the other.

    Aside from making me feel all young & tingley again, I don't imagine this go around will resolve anything. There will always be intellectually constipated profs & intellectually lazy students ... & entrepreneurs to cater to one or the other.

    --- PDH
  • > Student-written notes (as in the Cornell University fiasco) should be copyright the student.

    Any fiasco in particular? There's a commercial note-taking service called TakeNote; I think they have a partnership with our campus store, because there's a TakeNote kiosk in the store.

    Or are you referring to the Intel fiasco? For those of you not familiar, out-of-order execution (or something related to it) was invented here at Cornell. One of the EE prof's, H.C. Torng (a bitter, bitter prof) discussed the idea in lecture in one of his classes. One of his students went to Intel and took Torng's (original) idea with him. Who's IP was it? The student's, or the prof's?
    Intel used this information without permission of the prof--and made LOTS of money. Only afterwards did they acknowledge the source of this new technology.

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/science/Dec97/Torng. bs.html
  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday November 12, 1999 @12:34PM (#1537528) Journal
    Interesting. They're not only reprinting copyrighted material, but to get you to help, they're practicing law without a license :)

    hawk, esq.
  • I have to say that is the first time I've ever seen an ESPN reference on Slashdot...

    I think it's Bristol University, too :)
  • Sure, it applies to textbooks. Just try to sell your notes from a text book lecture. What, no takers? Duh! The text book, with indexes contents and neat pictures, is always a better reference.

    Some have more to gripe about than others. Most of the proffesors that I know take great care to put their own insight into lectures, even when they follow a text. Their notes are origninal, and some are planning to write textbooks from those notes. Money is not the motivator there. It takes years of teaching to get it right and I've never heard of someone getting rich this way. I can understand them being offended by some third party copy machine monkey trying to make a living off their work. Even more irritating is the lack of editorial control and misrepresentation. How is the monkey going to know who's notes are right? No reffernces and no original content is plagerism. All publishers, no matter how small should be held to the same standards, and you should not settle for second best.

    I've never bought a set of notes, and I never will. Good notes can be seen in the files of most proffesional societies, but their value is generally in the taking. My peers have usually been more help live than on dead trees. Get together with your friends and learn.

  • I don't know of any professors that lecture off the cuff. All the profs I had in college already had written down the notes that they were going to lecture from. So, in essence the lecture is already in fixed form. Also, so are the textbooks that are used in the class. They may not belong to the college, but they are copyrighted. It makes me wonder if doing the problems in say a math book, is in violation of copyright. Some texts already have the answers in the back. I think the university is still wrong, just not for the reasons you state.
  • I heard about this the other day... and failed to understand the sudden interest.

    This is, once again, nothing new. There are paid note-takers at every major college in the nation, and class notes for sale. In fact, I recall over 4 years ago reading articles about Stanford, grade inflation, and the place that notes-for-sale play in that. Why is it that every time a long-established practice hits the 'net, it becomes suddently interesting again? Does the whole world just assume that if you own a domain with .com at the end you have a million dollars and are worthwhile to sue, as opposed to addressing the fact that it's an existing problem?

    I won't even comment on the state of the educational system, it's offtopic, and I'd likely go on for 10 pages. =P
  • First, this argument helps clarify things like the Lyrics Server. Many argued that people posting lyrics were just posting their interpretation of them. However, if the lyrics were copyrighted by the writer (and/or owned by the band, record label, etc.), then posting the lyrics would be a violation of the copyright, according to the argument in the previous post.

    Second, what would the determination be if a student copied something that the prof. wrote on a whiteboard? What if the student drew a diagram that was drawn by the prof? Just curious.

  • by Thorsett ( 5255 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @12:40PM (#1537537) Homepage

    Nice try, but still not right.

    It is true that copyright law requires fixation, but I seriously doubt that many college lecturers would have any trouble meeting the (low) hurdle that the law requires. Even temporary storage in computer RAM has been sufficient to meet the fixation requirement. In almost any lecture situation, the lecturer has a prepared syllabus, lecture notes, possibly slides, and blackboards. (In intro physics courses at Princeton, we even photographed all of the blackboards.) All of these enjoy copyright protection. The analogy to MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech is flawed on two levels: the specific federal court ruling said that despite the fact that copyright was originally granted on the speech, copyright was lost only when MLK actively promoted wide use of the speech without restrictions -- and in any case the federal appeals court ruled last week that the district court had erred and returned the case for further consideration (ap story [yahoo.com]).

    Fair use laws, it would seem, give a student a right to make even verbatim copies of a lecture for their own educational use. But though IANAL, I would be very surprised if the courts don't find the commercial distribution of such a clearly derivative work as detailed lecture notes to be a violation of copyright.

  • Ooops, spelling error: s/substancial/substantial

    ....this is one thing I hate about the slashdot moderation system. The knee-jerkish reactions (though not horribly written) get moderated quickly to the top(+4/5), while worthwhile comments (other perspective) languish at the bottom, and remain largely unread/moderated/commented.
  • i think its cool, my friend jason currently posts every lecture on 3 different sites, and currently make 500+ a month, no joke.... its all good
  • I'm really glad my neurons defrag every night when I am asleep, because otherwise all the builds I've been checking out lately would really be fragmenting the filesystem in my head.

    Is there a definition for this process? Empirical evidence suggests this is the case (Stay awake for six days and wait for the hallucinations, loss of memory and general whackiness) but is such a thing defined anywhere. I was reading somewhere that sleep also allows the brain to cool off (thinking causes excessive heat, notice the smoke :-O)

    Just curious if anybody has ever seriously studied this stuff.

  • Teachers who work hard on coming up with good lectures should be rewarded with the right to determine who can hear them.

    Why should teachers be rewarded this way? This makes zero sense to me. Good teachers should be (and frequently are) rewarded with promotions, raises, and recognition from their departments and colleges. Good teachers who are also good writers should be (and frequently are) rewarded with deals with publishing houses to publish books that they write. Why do good teachers need to exercise power over what others can do with ideas learned in that teacher's classroom? For that matter, what teacher worth the title would want to restrict the spread of his knowledge? Isn't that what teaching is all about, disseminating learning?

    There isn't really even an argument from the standpoint of job security. Note taking services are not going to put college professors out of business, ever. If nothing else, the priviledge of asking questions and interacting with the professor directly can never be replaced by photocopied notes. My question is, who is being harmed by these notetaking services? The answer is nobody, as far as I can see (unless you count the students foolish enough to think they can substitute buying notes for attending class, but that's a different matter).


  • Please keep in mind the UCLA is a public institution of higher learning, with the goal to educate, not hoard information.
    The taxpayers and students are paying money to receive an education. They do not sign non-disclosure agreements regarding their notes or the professors lectures. Perhaps, as others have noted on this discussion, that the universities or professors are concerned that they will be embarrassed by the contents of the notes, which may reflect poorly on the professor and the university. These professors already undergo peer-review, and integral part of the university process, so I'm not sure why they should or could be ashamed of their lectures.

    Also you made a comments which I would like to directly reply to:
    You claim that college professors are the most "out of touch" people on the face of the earth. Can you "prove" they're even out of touch--let alone one of the most "out of touch" groups?"

    Read through this discussion. You'll find alot of us who have at least 4 years or more of experience dealing with professors. Some people I've spoken directly with feel they're definitely out of touch with their surrounding communities, calling the university a country-club for socialists. Personal political beliefs may impact your beliefs here though.

    You also ask:"What law says students can do whatever they want with their notes?"

    More likely, a better question would be, which you allude to is, what law or laws prevents them from distributing their notes?

    Just to make things ironic I will now post this notice informing all journalists that I must be contacted first to be qouted outside of this Slashdot discussion.
  • This is the worst site I've ever seen. I almost hit the reset button on my computer because the java crap froze it for so long. I tried a few easy searches and couldn't find any notes. Oh, and the Brain Games thing is a huge animation that essentially just says 'coming soon'.
  • College Professor, as a group, just might be the most out of touch people on the face on the earth. The kids can do whatever they want with their notes.
  • IANAL, but yah, you could not copy a book word-for-word and expect to survive the legal battles that would result.

    You could publish some short excerpts from the book and call it fair use. This is fairly common both in reviewing books and movies and also in news services like slashdot and lwn.net. Figuring out where the line is can be difficult for University Students, especially American ones who've only had the mediocre school system to guide them until they get to college.

    For a math class, substituting your own problems for the ones the professor does on the board would be a good idea not only from the potential legal perspective but also to determine if you really know how to do that class of problem. For a physics class, most of the forumlae that go up on the board have long since been hashed over and were probably copied verbatim from some textbook anyway. Again, if specific problems are being solved your best bet would be to substitute different numbers in a similar equasion.

  • That's pretty interesting, but I don't believe the bit about letting off heat. It makes sense intuitively, but at the same time, in dreaming, and in different types of sleep, your brain is moving very far, very fast at the same time, which you would assume would generate heat.

    Just my $0.02. Not that this thread is even remotely on topic anyway. :)

  • If they educate me, I own that knowledge, notes and all.

    If I speak in a public forum I give away my words to those who hear, I can't claim that I own the words in their heads (unless they're gollems, of course).

    Besides, there was a transfer of money (tuition).

    Seems rather far-fetched to me. Is there some legal aspect I'm missing?
    -- I'm omnipotent, I just don't care.
  • At West Virginia University, in my hometown, there's this place called Neer Notes. (The Mountaineer is the mascot of WVU.) They pay students to take two copies of notes in class, and then sell them to other students in the class that may have missed that day or for some reason didn't get the notes. This is perfectly legal, and the place has been around for at least 15 years. It's a private company, I think started by students, but not necessarily run by them now, and the University doesn't care. What's the difference?
  • The heirs of Dr King have sued for their copyright fees. They just have not won yet. The speech is copyrighted, the performance was copyrighted.

    The issue with professor's notes is also covered by prior lawsuits. The question will be the extent to which the notes replicate the presentation. Capturing the information, but not the presentation, lets you avoid copyright issues. But if you capture the presentation also, there are copyright issues. None of the news reports provide enough information to judge whether these notes would violate copyright restrictions.
  • I rather doubt that this violates intellectual property but it sure is annoying. Some of you who play yahoo chess may know me as sedandawk. I was playing chess there the other day, when someone was using the chat portion of this program to try and recruit students to do something similar to this. Aparently they could make money by supplying their notes, and the person recruiting them to do so would also get money. (sounds a bit like a pyramid scheme) It was an annoying waste of bandwidth to people who were there to play chess, if nothing else.
  • I went to my comp sci teacher and matter-of-factly told her about what my brother was doing. She wasn't mad at my brother; more mad at herself. So she took the next test and worded the True/False questions almost identically to the original tests--except they were opposite.

    She's right on both counts. If she's teaching exactly the same class, she's gotten lazy. Even without paid note-takers, your situation will arise too often. Her response was perfect - if your brother was actually learning from your notes, he wouldn't have bombed the test.

  • I believe academia does serve a certain function in society. However, this most of this "research" stuff is pretty pointless. Would you mind explaining to me how a PhD. in the liberal arts (e.g.: philosophy, english, management, theology, etc) really advances the human condition? They spend half their time in this little incestuous circle-jerk, doing critiques of critiques of critiques (and the like). How many PhD. do you really know that are producing work (e.g.: a book, or something of value) to be consumed by something other than academics? If they really produced something that people really used, even in something which I regard to be pointless, such as philosophy, I don't have a problem with it.

    Futhermore, even in the more "worthwhile" pursuits, the system is geared such that they spin their wheels an aweful lot, many words but little progress. This in turn causes a lot of infighting--the politics in academica is brutal.

    Even in the sciences professors are on a different planet. If you believe that they're creating our economy, you are a fool. A rare few may start something, but they hardly ever finish it or develop a product. A lucky few have their work licensed by a real company or individual...

  • Most of my teacher's notes are from my textbooks anyways, so I dont really see why my teacher has any special rights to my notes.
  • For the sake of argument, lets drop the `professors are incompetent and overpaid and college fees are a rip-off' line and suppose that college professors have some slight skill in figuring out what a student needs in order to learn. Doesn't it then follow that a professor is in a better position to rpovide the best education if he actually knows what resources the student is making use of?

    Like I say, I think note sharing *could* be a good thing: it is more likely to be so if the professors have some input into the process...

  • I'm currently going for my Masters and it's interesting that my current class, we all had to sign a Non-disclosure agreement. The notes that we are given are copyrighted. But all the notes are posted on my professors web site anyway!?, so actually anyone can get them. My professor really doesn't care, but he also included notes from other professors, in which is the reason why we had to sign. He talks basically straight from his notes that are view with a overhead. So, I can't legally sell my notes. Well, since I get the notes, I just write stuff in my own interpretation to help me understand it a little better. But my interpretation won't be useful with out the given notes.

    I did figure out how Hue is derived from RGB, which I may post on my web site soon. But that was done because I couldn't find it anywhere else. I don't mean just the formula, but how that formula came about.

    Steven Rostedt
  • So if I take a class on C programming, I can't use what I learned in that class to write and sell a book on C programming? Same thing, isn't it? (Of course, to write a decent book I might want to take more than one class.)

    Copyright may protect the text of a lecture itself, but no way does it prevent a student from expressing the content of a lecture in his or her own way. And I don't see how a restriction that class notes are not to be used for profit can possibly be upheld - after all, I might be taking that class so I can get a profitable job using what I learned...and I might just refer back to those class notes.

  • the article keeps saying "the professors" this and "the professors" that but never actually cites or quotes any specific professor.

    so my question is: is it really the professors who are upset about this or is it just the administrators?

    most of the profs i've ever dealt with wouldn't have really had any problem with notes for their classes being available online (although they may take offense to the sites that charge money). many even make class notes available freely themselves. having the notes online in no way damages a professor's professional reputation or hireability.

    as i see it, this sort of thing doesn't really infringe on the professors' rights as much as it interferes with the colleges' revenue stream.

  • The notes, provided they were not taken using college resources (i.e. the kids own the notepads/pencils/etc), would be wholey owned by the person writing them. It makes no difference where they were written.

    On the other hand, if the notes contained information that was the IP of a professor, then they would not be entirey the property of the student. Actually the notes would be the students property, but the information contained therein would not.



    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • In our Uni we have special depositories for old exam papers - sometimes with correct answers. It's great for two reasons:

    - it makes those exams questions change, so the situation you had won't arise as all the staff know we have the previous papers.
    - some professors have this insidious habit of giving lectures of one subject and an exam on something that you can never know by attending lectures - this system gives them out.

    Not to say I haven't passed some courses rather easily because the prof was lazy making new exams. But generally that won't work so memorising isn't really worth while.


  • so I'm not sure why they should or could be ashamed of their lectures.

    Interesting point. I don't think professors in general are ashamed of their lectures; however, I can certainly imagine that bad notes will reflect bad on the professor - as the person reading the notes cannot know whether the lecture was bad, or the note taker.

    More likely, a better question would be, which you allude to is, what law or laws prevents them from distributing their notes?

    That depends on what kind of notes they are. If the notes for instance include parts of what a professor writes on a blackboard (or whiteboard), copyright laws.

    The interesting case are notes that do not contain any verbatim copies; whether copied from the blackboard, or what the professor is saying, but are purely describing the lecture of the professor. Who owns the copyright on that?

    I will now post this notice informing all journalists that I must be contacted first to be qouted outside of this Slashdot discussion.

    Irrelevant to this discussion. The (fair) use of quoting with respect to copyright laws has been established quite some time ago.

    -- Abigail

  • if students DON'T own their notes, then the college could dictate which pieces of knowledge a student could use in the outside world.

    The ownership isn't the point. I own all the books on my bookshelves, but that doesn't grant me to publish the text of those books on a web site.

    The question is, who owns the copyright?

    -- Abigail

  • You've almost got it right. There is no requirement in the law for a fixed form. Furthermore, your MLK example is bogus because there is a fixed form: the films of the speech.

    Copyright law protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. In this distinction, copyrights differ from patents, trademarks, and trade secrets, all of which protect the idea itself.

    Thus, for example, I can steal the ideas from "I Have a Dream" and use them in a speech of my own. But if I were to use MLK's exact words (or a substantial portion of them) I would be guilty of violating his copyright -- if his heirs chose to assert and enforce it.

  • I do believe that student notes, which are a generally a paraphrase of the lecture, not verbatim, is/are property of the student. If its verbatim...

    How many note-taking students do not regulary copy verbatim what a professor writes on a blackboard?

    -- Abigail

  • Come on open-sourcers ;) You pay to go to college because classes facilitate the learning process. The information is not proprietary. I could go to the library, and with a good amount of research and organization, get the vast majority of information that one learns in college for free. What you're paying for at college is the presentation (and the degree of course) - and all this website is offering is the raw info.
  • This is somewhat analogous to the engineer who works for some company and has to sign NDAs, etc. But it's not exactly the same. The NDAs and things that the engineer has to sign apply to company secrets. But at a university, the vast majority, if not all, of what you're learning is public knowledge, not trade secrets. Thus the university doesn't have any rights to the knowledge that you possess. If you feel like sharing your knowledge, in the form of notes or anything else, that is your right.

    Yeah, but you have to be careful with that. You don't want to push the universities/professors in a corner where they opt for *not* sharing *their* knowledge with the students. (Professor: uhm, why should I waste my precious time teaching those kids? All I teach them is public knowledge anyway - let them learn it themselves from a book, or one of those websites that publish notes...)

    -- Abigail

  • I don't know about you, but when I was in school note taking was not a process of copying verbatim the professor's words. Rather, it was a process where I listened intently to what the professor said, jotted down key words, phrases, statements, and then later on that day or evening, composed those fragments into a semi-coherent, logically structured grouping of thoughts.

    I agree, what you then compose is your own work, and you probably own the copyright on it. What you are doing is journalism.

    I can still imagine professors having a problem with this. We all know what bad journalism can do (how often does slashdot see a discussion triggered by bad journalism?). What if you do your best, write nice, coherent, logically structured groups of thoughts, and it's just plain wrong? Or it comes out as if the professor made a difficult and hard to understand lecture, while (s)he didn't? Suppose a professor gave a nice lecture, but there was a bad note taker, posting her notes on a website, suggesting the professor didn't know his stuff real well. Can the professor and/or university take action? Who's going to pay for that? Should professors be afraid that bad note takers in their classes give them an undeserved bad reputation?

    -- Abigail

  • Well... Writing short hand, and spelling mistakes aside... Hmm. probably not too many.

    I sure as hell don't, but I realize that the valididy of that statement might as well be zero. Um, I *do* know that it is quite hard to write as fast as a professor talks, and copying straight from a black board won't let you make up lost time :o)

  • > Who would care about CS101 notes, since they're pretty much the same world wide?

    The professor who teaches the course may care very much, if he/she feels that new technology may -replace- him/her as a teacher. There is a deep-rooted fear among a -lot- of faculty members that universities will eventually use Internet-based instruction to reduce or eliminate professors altogether. The idea runs like this:

    (a) The university hires an adjunct professor to teach a class and generate Web-based lectures.

    (b) The adjunct signs over his/her IP rights to the course material as a condition of employment.

    (c) The university dismisses the professor, and offers the course every semester thereafter using a TA to hold office hours and give exams.

    I am a faculty member myself, and I have heard these comments from my colleagues repeatedly. Nor do I doubt some college administrators would do it to cut costs, if they thought they could get away with it. Students have always had the ability to photocopy course notes and give them to other students, but a photocopier can't teach a class, so IP concerns were never a big issue in the past. However, the perception nowadays is that Internet-based multimedia lectures -can- replace a live professor, at least for some courses. The entire issue of IP ownership of course notes is simply a pre-emptive move on the part of faculty members to prevent this scenario from taking place.

    Not that it will help, in the long run. If Moore's Law stays on track, I fully expect to see AI-based tutors taking the place of live instructors for many undergraduate courses in the next 20 to 30 years. Universities will embrace the innovation as a cost-cutting measure but will themselves be swept away by the revolution in teaching. Professors and universities alike are unwilling and unable to grasp how much the business of education is going to change in the next two decades.
  • How does this differ from, say, box scores being a representation of a baseball game? Isn't there a long-standing tradition that it is perfectly legitimate to summarize and report on events that occurred in a public place?

    Universities are usually not public places. You might be able to sneak in in some lectures if the class is big, but in general you cannot attend lectures unless you're a student or have some other agreement with the university.

    Furthermore, I don't think you can tape a ball game, and then show it to a large audience, making money from the commercials you throw in.

    -- Abigail

  • I am a college professor. I am certainly concerned about protecting my intellectual property rights; it is primarily for that reason that my course Web pages have restricted access even though I would prefer to have them be open.

    Nevertheless, I have to wonder about the UCLA suit. As I said in another post, copyright law protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. At least in the classes I teach, I don't think the student notes are a very close copy of how I sometimes express myself. (I hope, anyway, that last week nobody wrote it down when I digressed from the subject by lying down on the floor and kicking and screaming!)

    If I want to make money by selling class notes, I am certainly capable of creating such a collection. Since I choose not to, if one of my students wants to do the work, why shouldn't they profit?

    The whole thing strikes me as a dog-in-the-manger attitude: "I don't have the energy to make extra money by providing you with really good notes written by the professor, so I don't want anybody else to get that money either." Sheesh.

    As I recall, one of the requirements for a successful copyright lawsuit is economic harm. It's hard to see where the economic harm would arise, other than with respect to UCLA's own lecture notes (which they deny taking into consideration, and which weren't copied verbatim in any case).

  • subject says it all...
  • UCLA is right in this one (legally at least, though not ethically), but not for the reasons they bring up in the article. Upon enrollment, all students of the University of California (including UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, which I attended) are required to sign a contract which states that, among other things, all writings produced by the student during the period of enrollment are the property of the UC Regents. I'm sure this would cover lecture notes as well as term papers, exams, dissertations, etc.

    I had some serious problems with signing this contract, but gave in. I guess its moot, though, because I didn't really produce anything worth owning in those four years :-)

    I suppose I should make the standard IANAL disclamer.
  • The real problem is that alot of /.ers are anti-university in general and they feel threatened by the "ivory tower". Indeed you and I are probably exceptions but I have very high regard for most professors. I happened to go to a university very well known for high quality research yet all my professors were excellent resources for the students and were genuinely interested in helping the students learn the class material.
  • Ah, the oft-quoted "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Too bad it's a misinterpretation. The original intention was a reflection of the reality of aging: "Those who still can, do; those who no longer can, teach."
  • You could go out, buy a book, summarize it in your own words and sell your summary. If the entirety of your college note taking involved copying information verbatim off the board, I wouldn't want to read them anyway.

    If I want to profit from my interpretation of knowledge that professors have imparted to me (And good notes will almost always be in the student's own words) and some company wanted to pay me for that, well then I would be gainfully employed, wouldn't I?

  • >You don't know anything.

    Duh who am I?

    >Who was it that made the current technological
    >revolution possible?

    Ross Jeffries?

    >College professors.

    You mean like the one I caught copying an entire paragraph out of a textbook and claiming it was his own writing or the guy in the NAS who threatened to ruin my career because my data contradicted his NYTimes front page research? I guess you're right though. If it weren't for people like that, I'd probably still be a post-doc in academia rather than at a lucrative Silicon Valley startup.

    >Anyone who thinks that the best and the
    >brightest go into industry and "do" is living in >a hole in the ground

    You're right. Some of the worst managers I've ever dealt with were prof hacks who failed the tenure test.

    >The majority of college professors, at least in
    >the large universities are primarily researchers

    Who spend so much time scrambling for grant money, excreting out Lowest Publishable Units, and misrepresenting/cooking their data that they have little time to teach.

    >who, in fact, often found companies

    unwilling to hire them.

    >if they feel


    >it wouldn't interfere with their more important >work.

    Which of course is maintaining a sweat shop of post-docs, grad students, and interns.

  • Thank you...I was hoping somebody would think of that. now mind you, it becomes "Fixed Form" if a recording is made of it, but general IP rights (and several legal cases) put that even if the recording was not produced under the consent or knowledge of the performer, the material recorded IS the performers property (although the "tape" is not).

    The performer may not (legally) be able to stop sales of it, but the sales are illegal if the performer is not adequately compensated. The alternative is calling it a bootleg. The RIAA has had laws passed that the sale can become illegal if the performer has an exclusive contract with the record company that normally distributes his work.

  • No citations + no original content = Plagerism.

    Plagerism is the lowest accademic dishonesty. When commited in ignornace, it's just rude. Erudition is what the University is for. When commited by someone who knows better it's a crime, and that is what lawsuits are for. These note farms are a screw for all involved.

    I know proffessor who have spent years getting their notes right, and I can understand them being angry at plagerism. These folks are doing it for love and glory. There's not much money in text book writing, even less in publishing articles, and less than that in lectures. Proffessors deserve credit for and editorial control of their work. They don't get that from the copy machine monkey down the street, who's trying to make a living off this kind of thing. Who's notes are right? The monkey has no idea. A good lecture is a fine thing, have some respect for your proffesor.

    Anyhow, who needs to buy notes? You can get good notes from the files of most proffesional societies for free if you need them. Mostly, my peers and texts have been much more helpful. Get together with your friends and enjoy learning and problem solving. This is much better than carefully formating your notes for a not so quick buck. Sharing really is better.

  • I am instructing a cs course in some college. I don't care much about my intellectual property, but there are a few important problems with having copies of notes being distributed.

    Last year, I was grading a student's homework, and he was just acing all questions. Even better, not only he was giving the right answer, but he was presenting the answer like I would have done it myself. I was very happy of this, until I realized that his answers were a perfect copy of the solutions to homeworks I distributed a few semesters before! I met with the student, and he argued that he merely used my answers to "understand better the questions" and that he would - of course - never cheat for a homework.

    This kind of situation is very annoying. Some may say that I shouldn't ask the same homework questions twice, but good questions which are not too hard are difficult to come up with. So yes, if I could control the distributions of my solutions by claiming intellectual property on them, that might help limit the damage.

    Except for that, it is true that I don't like the idea of having a company making money of my work. I wouldn't mind for class notes, because those might be useful for the students, but I do mind for homework solutions, because I believe those are harmful to the student's learning experience. If a student doesn't struggle to find a solution, he doesn't learn.

    -- Slef.
  • You need to refer to machaone's previous replies to some of my comments regarding "proof"--only then you will understand.

    That being said, I do believe most professors are out of touch. I have had 4 years (and more to come) at university already. The point I was making is that machaone has no "proof" (see above).

    Regarding UCLA being a public institution, this strikes me as a bit of a paradox (if you follow the same motif as the rest of slashdot). How can you rant and rage about the evil's of non-disclosure agreements/non-compete, yet proclaim that professors have no rights to their own work. The objection, I am sure, lies primarily in the fact that the individual is not allowed to profit from his own ideas. If a professor were to improve his lecture (before he publishes), and his work is given away at profit by others, this can have the same effect. In that, you claim the state/university/students own his work, not the professor. Let me remind you that the system of notesharing has worked reasonably throughout history, this new internet business has the potential to create new problems. I'm not willing to just knee-jerk to either extreme, one way or other.

    Legally speaking, the copyright law is not so cut and dry. Refer to:
    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=99/11/12/165 218&threshold=0&commentsort=3&mode=thread& pid=63#146

  • That's right, all 2.5 to 2.0 GPA students' notes are now 40% off! Why pay more if you're not trying for a 4.0? Don't be fooled by promises of higher GPAs, go directly to www.Ijustwannapass.com for all your study needs.

    "We're also throwing in a book of doodles free with every order!"
  • Since when was *anything* you were taught in any school not "common knowledge"? How can this be considered IP?

    When you get a copyright, you do not gain rights to an idea, but rather you gain rights to how you describe the idea. How many physics books are there that describe the law of gravity? Every one of then has copyright held by the author.

    If this was about research related materials they might have a point. But then again, if it is research, it will likely be published in some
    dusty old academic journal anyway.

    And that journal will have copyrights held by the author or the journal publisher.

    I think that the situation here is very mixed. Many university profs work from manuscripts of textbooks they are preparing. Some use the manuscripts as class notes. Some present slides during class, or rewrite their notes to a blackboard. I think that a good note taker has a very strong chance of actually making a copy of material that is in fact copyright by the professor. Publishing this material on a web site is clearly a violation of the professor's copyright on that material.

    Sure, extemporaneous discussion or interpritation by the student is not copyright material. But I bet that a good part of the notes reflect the expression of the idea by the professor which is CERTAINLY at least a derivative work, if not a verbatim copy.

    IANAL, but I think the universities are quite clearly correct here when they claim that this sort of thing is in fact a violation of copyright law.
  • by aenea ( 34844 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @01:16PM (#1537619)
    When I went to UCLA the "student association" sold official UCLA-approved class notes. They also went to great lengths to ensure that they were the only viable source for those notes, including the funky paper trick and getting really, really, bent out of shape when some students banded together and tried to sell their own notes. It's a little hard to believe that they aren't just a little bit behind the uproar there.
  • I have been a college professor at times (although now I write computer programs, mostly). I was absolutely shocked and dismayed by the actions described of the UC schools to try to "lock down" *knowledge*. This is completely antithetical to the purpose of universities.

    I agree the resale-for-profit of student notes is a little bit crass. But no big deal in the end. But the greater point is that it shows people actually WANT to look at the ideas described in professor's classes, and discuss them and share them beyond the confines of the classroom. As a professor, I can imagine no greater flattery of my teaching than having students bring them forth in such a manner. If they do, it shows I've done my job right.

    Those other professors who get their panties bunched up over the "loss" of their ideas to the world at large are just simply *bad* people. That's not the nature of ideas, and sure as hell isn't what universities should be for. It is so sad that that's the direction things are taking.

    Yours, Lulu...

    P.S. Of course, I teach in the humanities, and what I teach is not rote discourses on narrow technical procedures. Good teaching in other areas isn't either; but it is easier for an engineering prof (to fail by) teaching by rote than it is for a humanities prof.
  • Of all the... If I went there, I'd leave that school.

    I go to your classes. I've paid to go to your classes, in fact. And once I've been there, the knowledge I've gained is mine . It is unique to me; the student next to me did not get exactly the same knowledge, nor the one two rows back. Even the professor's knowledge isn't the same as mine is; probably because the professor was unable to go through all of the material but possibly because I had some unique insight.

    My mind and my knowledge belong to exactly one person: me. No one, not sniveling corrupt professors, not hardcore drug dealers, not tyrannical governments or administrations, will ever take it from me; I would rather die before I allow that. And if I decide to share my knowledge for free, though I may have paid to gain it, tough luck for anyone who's deluded enough to think they have a claim on what I know.
  • When I take class notes, I often have thoughts of my own that I know aren't part of the class lecture itself ... I mark these with a "self:" in a circle next to the paragraph so that I know for future use (especially essays in that course) whether to credit the prof when citing my notes, or whether to simply state the thoughts as my own.

    I know full well that most everything I write down from class is owned by my school. The school pays the teachers good money for the actual copyright on their lectures and also pays them for the lecture time itself. That way, the school can hand off the notes to a new teacher or to other teachers (most often) without the first teacher being upset about the information sharing.

    - Michael T. Babcock <homepage [linuxsupportline.com]>
  • I would agree that the proofs themselves are not origional, however, the commentary and the manner in which the proofs and theorems are presented could possibly be copyrighted. While the note taker can copy down the notes for fair personal use, I could certainly see if I posted my exact copy of Rudin (Junior) to the net, McGraw Hill would be on my tail in a second. This is even more true if I did not properly attribute my source. Most profs I have had, do attribute sources - usually verbally ( "This is straight from Rudin", "I am taking this from Stewart, but changing the x to an xi for clairity..." ). I have never seen someone write attributions on their notes - perhaps in this case, the buyers to ask that the notes be properly attributed.
    My whole argument is that copyright law does become fuzzy in this area. It is unclear on which side it falls - on a case to case basis.

    ( For the record - I have handed in proofs almost straight from rudin, for home work assignments, with proper referals to the source, and never had a problem. Got the damn things right, too )
  • One possible solution is for the professors to post the notes on the web themselves... This has many advantages... first, the professors will clearly own the IP rights to these notes... and I would think that no one would buy these notes if they were available for free, places like study24-7 would all but dissapear... also they do the whole academic community a great service when they do this. Often times I have found the notes for classes at other univeristies quite useful. In almost all of my classes the professors post some form of class notes or lecture slides on the web. This makes for a much better classroom envrionment as it frees the students from having to spend time copying stuff down and they can actually spend the class time thinking, asking questions, and discussing, much better uses of class time I think. And if professors are unwilling to do this, I support other people posting them on the web, and if they want to make advertising money, more power to them... these notes can be a great learning tool. As for IP issues... I would think it is fine as long as they don't use the professors actual words in the notes.
  • If someone further down's already asked this, then shame on me, but with the brouhaha about MP3s, I'm surprised nobody's thought to ask this yet.

    What about tape-recordings of lectures?

    It's relatively easy, now, to tape-record lectures, then record them into digital form and cook them down to MP3. (I recorded the Hasbro-Kenner panel at BotCon '99 on a microtape machine and cooked it down thusly; it only came to 18 megabytes for an hour and is still available on my BotCon '99 webpage for all comers.) I'm now recording one of my lecture classes the same way--not for help studying, but because the Prof. is an A1 Cynical Bastard (TM) and funny as hell, and his class is at least 30% amusing digressions by weight.

    What if companies start paying for and selling lectures that way? I imagine there's no way in hell they'd get away with it, but the difference is only one of degree, isn't it?
  • You claim that college professors are the most "out of touch" people on the face of the earth. Can you "prove" they're even out of touch--let alone one of the most "out of touch" groups? Where are your facts?

    What law says students can do whatever they want with their notes? Ignoring law for a second, many colleges have policies against "anything". You can't take an audio recording without permission. You can't photograph without permission. Verbatim notes might very well count as an IP violation, as absurd as it might sound. I'm not entirely opposed to the notion either.
  • No. But if you tell a particular person that a particular method of killing a particular victim would only leave them liable for manslaughter rather than murder, you've probablhy crossed the line.

    Stating the law is not the practice of law. Advising on what the law means to a course of conduct by a particular person--such as the notetaking above--is the practice of law.

    Also note that getting it wrong leaves you open for malpractice litigation, regardless of whether or not you charged for the bad advice.
  • by ChiChiCuervo ( 2445 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @11:28AM (#1537680) Homepage
    This is surprisingly similar to pro and anti OSS/Free Software arguments. With your tuition, are you paying for the end product, which is knowledge in your mind? Or are you paying for the "source" as well, the materials, notes, etc.?

    I think this is where the real debate is, open source or not? Whether or not derivative products, like notes, are free?

    The similarities are uncanny.

  • Notes are a representation of the lecture itself.

    How does this differ from, say, box scores being a representation of a baseball game? Isn't there a long-standing tradition that it is perfectly legitimate to summarize and report on events that occurred in a public place?

    When I give a lecture, what I see happening is that I stand up in a public place, and I disseminate some knowledge, which the students try to absorb. Probably they will write notes to help them in this process.

    Now, what happens if somebody (for the sake of argument, let's say someone who isn't in the class, but who is nevertheless interested) asks one of those students, ``What did Dr. Link go over in class today?'' Well, they will probably report a summary of what happened. They might refer to their notes as they do so. I hope you would not claim that this constitutes an infringement of copyright. The right to talk about what you did in class today seems pretty fundamental to me.

    But, if we're willing to grant students the right to talk about what they heard in class, then why not the right to write about what they heard in class? (Perhaps they only communicate with their friends by post or email, for instance.) And if we're willing to concede that I'm not being harmed by any of this, then why should I care if they do it for a fee, rather than gratis? Are they somehow harming me by collecting money, when they weren't harming me by doing it for free? It seems wrong for me to invoke the power of the state to punish these students when they are not harming me.

    I worry when I see trends like this. I hope I never live to see the day when professors can (or even want to, for that matter) require NDAs for students taking their classes. I like to think that as scholars we are above that sort of thing.


  • Just to make things interesting, let's put another foot or hand in the moving machinery:

    If the information is question is copyrighted by one legal means or another, ie. "fixed form" into a book or an visual or auditorial exact copy, then could the mind be considered another means of accomplishing this fact? This seems to be the questionable issue with the student's "notes" here.

    Say I take a Engineering class, in which I would normally take notes, mostly as a memmnoic device. If my notes are restricted by the licensing terms of the information that is presented to me, does that also me that my brain also now contains licensed information, and should be govered by the same rules? If I want to use/reproduce that information later, do I then need to apply for permission to use it just like a another physical device?

    Perhaps in the future it will be possible to enforce copyrighted data in people brains by creating the ability to remove it, by force if need be. The world is become much too dependant on a information regulation as it is without taking the idea of IP to it's theoretical extreme.

    Now if you will excuse me, my school wants back what I learned in the last few years in college.
    *** Bzzzzt! ***
  • In many states, you could be required to notify a professor if you planned to record his lectures. Furthermore, once in a fixed medium, it could actually enjoy copyright. This isn't generally true for public discourses, but a college lecture isn't the same thing as a public speech - you paid to get in.

    I'm not sure, but I think a verbatim copy of the lecture sold surrepticiously might be illegal, but I can't think of a case or law in particular.

    Furthermore, that's not what's going on. Notes are just notes. Had I made notes from a written textbook and published them - these notes providing a summary of material and a sketch of the arguments presented - I think that usually qualifes as fair use. Certainly I have done so many, many times with academic texts without ever being challenged - so long as I plainly acknowledged my sources and avoided plagarism.

    I don't think that selling notes substantially diminishes the value a professor gets out of his preparations. It does little to help other profs, except perhaps secondarily by pointing out what material other profs are covering. It is doubtful that the notes can, by themselves, substitute adequately for a class. Any class that you can pass by doing nothing but reading the notes is not a very good class to begin with.

    (N.B. In the French university system when I was a kid, you could be required to take two or more classes that met at the same time. Usually, you would cut a deal with someone else in the same situation to bring you a copy of the hand-outs and their class notes. You could pass this way - but usually only for classes that were very structured and stodgy - things you should have been able to learn from video tapes or books anyway. I don't know if this true anymore - I never went back to France and my time there was more than a decade ago. I hope the system has improved - there was much good in the French system, but there was also a lot of crap.)

    I've taken a look at versity.com, and the quality of notes is pretty marginal. I don't think it will interfere with marginal profs. It might actually help students with overburdened schedules - there are plenty of those. It could also help students to evaluate in advance the kinds of classes they are paying for, and determine their needs better.

    True, some alcoholic frat boy may pass a few extra classes that they haven't attended because of publicly available notes - but any university where a student who has never learned the material can still get their diploma isn't a school worth paying for.

    If universities want to stop this sort of activity on philosophical grounds, rather than control issues, I would advise them to begin their own websites for posting prof's notes. The prof's notes will likely be superior to any student notes and few students will bother with these private sites. Once in fixed form - even on the web - notes become fully protected by copyright.

    True, a university might accidentally pass useful knowledge on to someone who has the temerity not to pay for it, but so what? A university - even a private one - exists to serve the public. They have no place handing out non-disclosure agreements like some Silicon Valley start-up. If their job isn't to propagate knowledge, they what reason should they have to exist? Besides, few students (I suspect) enroll in college to get an education - most just need an accredited paper degree to get a good job. The ones who do come to learn will probably need the classes anyway.

    Besides, seeing profs put their notes on the web might lead to other profs evaluating their own performace relative to competing institutions. They would be compelled to provide more than just a droning voice for a couple of hours a week - they might actually have to add value to their lectures.

    Stranger things have happened.
  • How can you rant and rage about the evil's of non-disclosure agreements/non-compete, yet proclaim that professors have no rights to their own work

    It seems that the implicit assumption in your statement is that the student's notes are somehow the work of the lecturer (if this was not your intent, please correct me). I believe the the student's notes are the student's interpretation of the lecture, and as such are the student's property, not that of the lecturer. If the student had made a verbatim copy of the lecturer, or tape recorded him/her and published said copy, in that case I can see an excellent argument for those being the property of the lecturer. But to claim student-created notes as the IP of the professor seems a bit much.

    The objection, I am sure, lies primarily in the fact that the individual is not allowed to profit from his own ideas

    But the professor is profiting from his ideas, as is his right. It's called his employment as a professor. In addition, at UCLA they sell professor-approved lecture notes. I would argue that the students also have the right to profit from *their* work, the notes they took.

    And what about publications such as Cliff's Notes? They summarize literary works in pretty good detail, probably as well as (or better than) many students notes :-) But AFAIK the authors of the original work have no legal rights to the Cliff's Notes.

  • My professor once said, "Someone is taking my notes, and copyrighting them." (there is always a little disclaimer on the bottom of the notes) There are some interesting questions that need to be answered. You could almost think of it, as if you went to see a band in concert, taped it, copyrighted, and sold it. It is very similar, you are paying admission to the concert (tuition), and you are making a copy (the students impression of notes). However, since I am not a legal expert I can't make a judgement, but there are some similarities.

    The worst part is, when professors buy the notes and make exams from everything that was covered in class that wasn't on the notes. I am not a fan of the notes....

  • My college had an honor code that was actually pretty strictly enforced.

    If this is true:

    "Our code of student conduct prohibits students from taking and distributing notes without the professor's permission," Mr. Zuidema said.

    Then the school has every right to punish those who are distributing the notes.

    However, I went to a private school, and UCLA is a public school... most likely it is more difficult to enforce a college code there.

    Kinda like how the Boy Scout's are allowed to exclude homosexuals because it is a private organization, while obviously the government would never be allowed to do that.
  • I was speaking more towards liberal arts than I was the sciences. Certainly significant portions of our scientific progress has occured within academic circles, where a professor is entitled to a certain lattititude in his work--without having to worry about short-term goals. This does not mean though, that most professors are grounded in reality--merely that academic work does produce some fruit. However, none of this is to say that academia should be squashed.

    That being said, both of my parents are electrical engineers--extremely successful ones at that (I don't mean to brag or anything--so please don't flame me). They've started up multiple successful companies and hold many key patents (though the particular industry will remain unnamed-as I, too, enjoy a certain amount of anonymity). Through the years, I've picked up a lot, both through my parents, their friends, employees, and my own work and school experiences; I can tell you from personal experience, that academia doesn't know the first thing about developing a product. As in a significant product, which requires millions of dollars and a team of people working 80+ hours a week to make it work for a couple years. There are damn few successful academic projects like that which come to mind. I can point to many areas which, try as they might, academia simply can't crack it.

    As you said yourself, your institution licenses most of its work; they do it for a reason. Namely, they know making the thing work is an entirely different story. I've seen this as well (in fact, my parents have licensed some technology from universities), and the technique/method/patent is only the first step. Development is huge, and requires a great deal of work and expertise too. This is one thing that so many slashdot readers fail to grasp (e.g.: the difference between mere invention and actually developing a working product from--which leads to taking swipes at all forms of IP). The development many times takes many more years, man hours, and dollars to develop. It is not just a matter of applying the academic blue prints, and building the thing. Academia is simply ill-equipped to rise to such challenges. (There are a number of reasons why this is the case, though 2am is not the time to ennumerate them.)

    Perhaps you see things differently, but I've seen both sides of the coin; I am not just talking out of my ass here. Good night. :)

  • by Belgand ( 14099 ) <belgand&planetfortress,com> on Friday November 12, 1999 @11:39AM (#1537749) Homepage
    I myself currently am employed by a notetaking service (versity.com) for transcribing my interpretation of the material presented in one of my courses. The key factor here is "interpretation" we were thoroughly told not to copy or post any copyrighted material or handouts. So long as a student is posting material that is written by themself as they view the material presented in class it is entirely legal however.
  • by delld ( 29350 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @11:40AM (#1537753)
    The claims so far, here on /., are that the student own the notes that they take. However, it is my experience that many people in math and physics write down word for word what the prof writes on the board. Some even use the exact same formating and annotation. Are these notes the property of the student? I beleive not. If word for word copies were permisable, I could copy out the latest best seller and publish on the web! I think the publisher and author would come after me fairly quickly.
  • I can't use what I learned in that class to write and sell a book on C programming?

    That's not the point at all... it's not what you learned in class, it's the notes you take from the lecture. You might argue that these are a "student's interpretation" of the material, but most students I know (myself included), take down pretty much the exact same things that go on the board and/or are said. If the professor does a proof of some theorem, I'm going to copy his/her proof because it's likely the way he/she will want it done on assignments and exams. I'm sure there are exceptions, but there always are.

    The problem is with profiting directly from the above described notes... not with using knowledge derived from the material in the notes.

  • by John Murdoch ( 102085 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @11:46AM (#1537774) Homepage Journal

    Professors, and the institutions, are asserting an intellectual property right to a student's notes on the content of lectures. They're dreaming. No such right exists.

    Intellectual property rights only apply to ideas that have been reduced to fixed form. Fixed form means "written down" or "recorded"--only the fixed form of an idea is protected by copyright, the idea itself is not. Until the idea is reduced to fixed form it is just so much hot air.

    For example, suppose I get up on stage and present a hilarious, moving expression--in rap--of the tribal customs of my ancestors (Scots) entitled "Getting Naked and Painting My Body Blue". If I have written those rap lyrics down beforehand, I can assert an intellectual property right. If you copy them down and repeat them, I can sue. But if I just start shouting extemporaneously, I have no rights--the words have not been reduced to fixed form.

    An excellent example of this was Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. Consider how many times you have heard that speech. Now ask yourself--why don't Dr. King's children collect royalties on that speech? They can't--King spoke extemporaneously. The written copies of the speech were made from film footage of the event.

    In the case of classroom notes the situation is made even easier--the written notes reflect the creative work of the note-taker. Suppose that you and I attend a lecture by Prof. Chris Berman [go.com] at the University of Bristol [go.com]. My notes might include lots of information about what Berman wore, what the lecture hall looked like, whether he looked smaller or larger than he appears on TV, and what the general reaction of the audience was. Your notes might indicate what Berman actually said. The difference between my notes and yours is the creative content that you and I add. And what each of us reduces to fixed form is our intellectual property.

    But wait, there's more...
    The university isn't just wrong in asserting that it owns the rights to the notes--it is wrong to assert in its code of conduct that students do not. Unless a student surrenders his intellectual property rights to all creative work when he enrolls, the university is infringing upon his rights to dispense with his property (his creative work) for however much he can make.

    The university is blowing smoke.

  • by DanaL ( 66515 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @11:46AM (#1537775)
    Some of my professors have given us printed notes with copyright dates on them, and I would respect that (heck, when I use their notes in assignments, I'll usually reference them).

    Handwritten notes, though, I consider mine and I've never been presented with any contracts from a prof about what I can and cannot do with information presented in class.

    I would think this would mainly be an issue for grad students who are doing work under profs who are doing industry sponsored research, or who plan to publish papers based on their work. Who would care about CS101 notes, since they're pretty much the same world wide?

  • You're thinking along the wrong lines. Imagine that the professor had a copyright/patent on something he was discussing. Now does the student own what he's writing on the notes?

    Of course not. The notes are his, but the ideas are still the IP of the professor. If my professor describes, in detail, the RSA algorithm, I don't suddenly own it just because I wrote it into my notes -- It still belongs to RSA. The same goes for the professor's IP.


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • Speaking as one who has faced this issue at a different level, yes the institutions claim to own ALL the student's knowledge while they are enrolled. I have been in on the legal discussions. I do not agree with it, but I do not have the money to fight it.

    While part of the institution you are intellectually drawing from your association with said institution therefore (student, janitor, or network supervisor) you are intellectually a part of the institution and can not sell any such propertity without the institution getting it's cut.

  • I know many slashdotters have knee-jerk-reactions to any notion of I.P. (particularly this). So allow me to play devil's advocate for a second, though let me first preface this:

    a) I believe most professors are out of touch, and are far too caught up in academia. (no I'm not going to "prove" this, *ahem* mochaone)

    b) there are substancial dangers is going overboard with this notion of IP...

    One huge distinction between this and other "fair use" acts, is that the professors' work is (or might) be copied word-for-word, with a turn-over of a couple hours. That being said, let me present a theoretical situation:

    Let us imagine that I tape all of my professors' lectures, and employ speach recognition on my PC to post verbatim notes to the web minutes later, so that I can profit. Some of my professors are unquestionably far better than others--let us assume they're the top professors in their respective subjects (at teaching--not academia necessarily).

    What happens when kids and other professors merely start copying my professors' lectures? It might harm those few excellent professors who really go the extra mile to teach their students. Namely, it'll marginalize professors who strive to improve their teaching. (e.g.: develop improved metaphors, examples, drawings, arguments, etc) These same professors might turn to publishing (already a problem, publish or perish.) as a means to justify their existence (or salary). Their printed works ARE protected on the whole, unlike these free-for-all which slashdot juniors would have. Perhaps, they'd just dumb down their lectures...

    Though, admittedly, my argument is hastily constructed; the situation is not so black and white as slashdot would have it. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for and against.
    It requires more thought and consideration than the mere 5 minute knee-jerk reflex that is evidenced by the majority of slashdot content. I know i'm going to be thinking about this more...
  • by Fjord ( 99230 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @12:10PM (#1537798) Homepage Journal

    I am very confused by a lot of the postings here. They seem to imply, incredulously, that because they hand copied the notes that that make them theirs. Does that mean I can go out, buy a book, hand copy the whole thing, and then sell copies of that book?

    The same things goes for the comments regarding students paying. I paid for the book, so should just be able to make copies? How does that follow.

    It's very important to realize that the site isn't asking for students to write their own essays or take on lecture material. They are asking for their notes. In my stay at university, the bulk of notes were "lecture notes," those that were copied verbatum off the board. In this case there is no difference than me copying verbatum from a book. I am allowed to do so for my own purposes only, with exception to Fair Use.

    I really don't understand why people here think that a student should profit and the company should profit of of the work that the professor has put into creatig that material. How can we denounce warez kiddies and commercial piracy and think this is okay?

    If you learn some material, think about it, and put it into a book, then good for you. If you just copy off a board and then sell that, then how can you call that right?

  • In that case, you own the notes, and have a copyright on them (as long as they are not a verbatum transcript). RSA still owns the patent of course.

  • For math and engineering notes, the expression is often tied directly to the idea. In these cases, there is often only one *correct* expression of the idea; thus it is hard to argue that copyright law applies. Furthermore, most of these lecture notes contain proofs and statements of theorems which have come right out of a text book anyway.
  • Printed handouts are, reasonably, copyright by the professor or lecturer who wrote them.

    Student-written notes (as in the Cornell University fiasco) should be copyright the student.

    (Copyright can cover organised information, but does NOT cover non-organised collections. As notes can be written in any order, and can include or omit anything the lecturer says and, indeed, include or omit anything anyone else says, as well, they are not even remotely copyrightable by the lecturer.)

    Lastly, if the notes are significantly restructured and not put up verbatim, then they are no longer the original work. This is why diaries can have phone lists in the back, as they are not quoting the telephone books - which are copyright - verbatim.

    IMHO, the students in any affected University should go on rent-strike, or take the Professors to court for slander.

  • by Jerenk ( 10262 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @11:55AM (#1537806) Homepage
    I think most professors do not care if or when students share notes. What they do care about is when corporations come in and try to make money off the notes. This is the important factor to most professors. If someone wants to give the notes away, fine. If they want to make money, at the very least have the courtesy to inform the professor about it. If he says fine, you make money. If not, well, you find another professor to leech.

    Here at UCI, one of the local note-taking places is in trouble because they were selling verbatim notes without professor's permission. The professor of this class saw a student with the verbatim notes and he asked him where he got the notes. The student said he bought the notes from this company. The professor went down there and asked the clerks whether or not they had the professors permission to replicate these notes. They, of course, said that they did (and only used notes that have been authorized by the professor). Well, of course, they had no such permission. The company is in a bit of trouble now.... =)

    Because this company is not under the auspices of the UC system (there is a student-govt. run notetaking place here on campus), they are currently trying to figure out what to do with them. Apparently, the professor can sue for IP violations (and is debating whether or not to do so). For people who keep an eye on the news, this is the same company that was involved in the cadaver scandal a few weeks back...great ethics at this company!

    I also believe as part of conduct, it DOES indeed forbid us from taking notes and selling them without permission. IIRC, it also says that all notes and lectures are the IP of the professor (unless otherwise stated).

  • Some people have the wrong impression about what notes really are and what they can be used for. True, you can use the IDEAS you learn in a class and publish them to your heart's content, because ideas are not copyrighted. This mean that if I take CS101 from Prof. Smith, I can use the ideas he teches me and give them to others however I want. What I cannot use are the specific ways that Prof. Smith tought me the things. For instance, if Prof. Smith has a wonderful diagram which explains what recursion means, that diagram can have a copyright, which means I can't draw my own rendition of that diagram and then sell it. And if he has a really good original description or definition, and the student writes down the bulk of it verbatim and that gets published, that's also a copyright violation. I think everyone who's gone to college or ever had a teacher period knows that the words of a teacher who can explain something in a creative way are far more valuable than a teacher who just gives you facts. Facts are not copyrightable, nor are they particular to a teacher. Interpretations are.

    I know these online notes places require that the students not copy down pictures the teacher draws or take notes verbatim, but do you think anyone actually does that? Teachers who work hard on coming up with good lectures should be rewarded with the right to determine who can hear them. In some cases, they want to publish their notes on the web; in some cases not. Is that so wrong?
  • This seems to me to be a dangerous step towards academia moving towards copyrighting learning, which would be an extremely distressing outcome.

    I've been to SAP [sapag.com] training where they required signing a form of nondisclosure agrement, which I found disquieting; for public educational institutions to do this seems to me to be grounds for termination of public funding.

  • I suspect some of it is motivated by fear of long-term obsolescence through the commodisation of education, especially at the undergraduate level (basic maths/english doesn't change that fast). If you look at the University of Phoenix model where they separate the creation and delivery of content (I believe flat $1K/lecture) you can understand why highly paid professors want some bargining chip against the fear of being replaced by a teaching assistant with decent parroting ability. Universities are only too happy to oblige to protect their brand/reputation in order to justify their fees.

    Now as to the right/wrong of this is another debatable (and contentious) point which is best left for time to resolve. Technology always has this nasty habit of destroying old practices and, despite the perception of universities as technology powerhouses, many are still accustomised to the medieval practice of mass delivery to a lecture-hall. From the professor's point of view, if there is some original and unique features in their lectures, they would prefer to capture the economic benefits through textbooks, videotapes and (autographed?) notes. Afterall, Feyman wasn't adverse to making a buck or two. One can compare the case where the composer of a song would get some (miniscule) payment for a movie songtrack though the bulk of payments would go to the singer.

    The question is how many steps removed from the source can you justifiably claim some recompensate? This is a rather interesting point as it also relates to OpenSource and the reluctance of many companies to release their IP into (effectively) the public domain. If computers allow defect free copying of digital content, then limiting the original content or controlling the distribution channels is the only way of preventing the value of your original investment (in the case of universities their library infrastructure and sunk costs in faculty staff) from disipating.

    Sooner or later, universities are going to get hit by the same train that has run rough-shod over the music/media industries and the sight is not going to be pretty.

  • This kind of crap has got to stop, you do NOT have rights to something just because you said it, especially when said something is a bit of theory. Have any of these idiots heard of the term "convergence"? I will grant limited (lifetime of the author + 25 years) copywrite protection, but protecting derivitavie works? After I read/see/hear it, all of my THOUGHTS are derivative works, everything I do for the rest of my LIFE is derivative, and If you don't think so, you don't understand anything about human psychology or psychiatry. As for IP on an IDEA? I just want to scream and start shooting people, its as childish (EXACTLY as childish, in exactly the same way) as "First Posts", "I thought of it first, so there".

    I cant wait to spend my declining years on the moon, were idiots like this will get spaced before their greedily shortsighted and immature views can spread to children to young to know better.

  • Students are paying to attend, and the university provides them with an education. The 'contract' between 'student' and 'school' ends at that.

    That's a silly thing to say. Just for starters, every school has a student conduct code of some sort. There are many, many legal obligations that both the student and the school must meet. To turn this to the topic at hand, many schools do have a specific policy about not using lecture notes for commercial purposes without the professors permission. I happen to agree with that. What? Do you think professors don't actually do anything? (Accepting that there will always be a few crappy professors)
    If I were a college professor, I would gladly grant permision to sell lecture notes (subject to my approval). But I sure as hell would be pissed if students started making money selling lecture notes behind my back.

  • Then, why do the notes (video, soundbites etc) from an interview belong to the interviewer? (or the interviewer's employer). If you read 4 chapters in a textbook, and summarize it, do you own the summary? How does the professor and the school dare to claim copyright sence the sum of what the professor knows came from other sources (which are copyrighted). IP rights have to end somewhere.

  • What's wrong with ./ers?

    I have to say, I'm a prof wannabe. so maybe I'm somehow bias on this issue.

    As someone has point out, the prof/instructors have edit the materials to present. Although the prof/instructors seem to "pirate" others copyrighted materials, the copyright laws generally have exception clauses on the use of materials for education purpose in schools or institutions. A student copying down what have presented is included in this exception. And indeed, the prof/instructors can claim copyrights on this materials as they have edited. It's derived work.

    If student sell it to others without the permission of the original copyright holders and it's not under the same exceptional clause of copyright law, that's already a violation of copyright.

    Of course, you can argue whether it's appropriate to extend the copyright interpretation of derived work to this case, that's something we shouldn't overlook.

    And... of course I would say, only stupid students would pay to get a copy of notes for elementary courses. You always learn more by direct interacting with professors/instructor for advanced topics that the notes do not cover normally.
  • We started on the slippery slope with software licenses. You don't own the software you pay for, you're just buying a license that can be terminated at any time.

    Generators of other content types (Music, Movies) are now trying to get into the same thing which would lead to a pay per view model as soon as they get their technology straight. Divx was a failed attempt at this but we'll see more.

    Soon authors of books will also want into the pay per view scheme of things, and also, it seems, university professors.

    Once you hit that slippery slope, where does it end? If you follow this to its logical and absurd conclusion, teaching a child the alphabet will violate someone's intellectual property as will any educational effort from kindergarden on up. Once you hit the workforce, will you have to pay your professors licensing fees for the use of the intellectual property they've revealed to you. Will you have to sign a non-compete contract before you are accepted to college? Will you have to pay royalty fees to your teachers when you publish a paper? Exactly where will this insanity end?

    Someone needs to take a beatdown stick to these idiots.

  • There's a company that's been in business for years in State College called Nittany Notes. They hire students to take notes for $5.00 a class, and sell the notes, by class or semester. They copy the typed up notes on red paper to boot to make it harder to reproduce. Penn State has sued and lost. Professors have sued and lost. The rulings have all come down that notes that the students take are an intrepretation of the professors lecture and therefore remain the intellectual property of the student and they can do what they want with them. It's actually got to the point at Penn State that if a professor really objects to the note-taking-for-profit model, they hand out all the notes at the beginning of the semester and copyright them. The result is the same... students get the notes they want... -- mapman
  • OK, obviously, people are selling their notes. But who here would do that? I have often found that "geeks" are often very big on "earning" knowledge. I can't imagine many of us here, after busting our cans and taking good notes would then hand those over to someone else so they could leech off of our efforts.

    I'm speaking from experience here. In High School, I was one of the top computer science students in our program. My teacher used the same basic materials from year to year. She would change the tests, but the basic questions remained the same--almost exactly the same. Enter my brother, one year behind me. He asks to look at my class notes and finds a treasure trove--I had every class, every quiz, every program, every test. I loved this stuff, so my notes where very thorough. Suddenly, my brother started getting 100's on his pascal tests. He had the tests before he went in; it was no contest.

    And no learning was taking place. I'm sure he would say he was learning, but I knew he wasn't. Plus it pissed me off that all my hardwork was subsidizing his grades. I'm sure many of you would identify. I'm all for helping others; I tutor many people. But I'm against people taking shortcuts and trying to circumvent the learning process.

    Some of you would argue that my brother learned by looking at my tests and notes. That would be wrong. Call me a jerk, but I went to my comp sci teacher and matter-of-factly told her about what my brother was doing. She wasn't mad at my brother; more mad at herself. So she took the next test and worded the True/False questions almost identically to the original tests--except they were opposite. My brother bombed the next test.

    He was pissed with me, but I told him he would have to do the work himself. He did so so, for a while, all the while pissed at me for spoiling his perfect plan. He went on to do very well after a few more weeks. But he worked a lot harder for it than he had before.

    People should do their own work. Everyone has a right to do what they want with their notes (I think the college's are wrong here). But it bothers me that anyone would choose to sell their notes so that someone else could basically cheat their way through a class.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Friday November 12, 1999 @12:24PM (#1537848) Homepage Journal
    It might actually convice people to pay attention in class. Wouldn't that be ironic?
  • Imagine that the professor had a copyright/patent on something he was discussing. Now does the student own what he's writing on the notes?
    The professor has a copyright on the expression of the ideas in the form of his lecture. (Actually, I think copyright requires the expression in a fixed medium, not just speech, but we can pretend he wrote his lecture down ahead of time.) That doesn't prevent me from preparing new work (my notes) which expresses the same ideas in a different form.

    That's assuming that I'm not just acting as a stenographer and writing down a verbatim transscript - a very poor learning strategy.

    If my professor describes, in detail, the RSA algorithm, I don't suddenly own it just because I wrote it into my notes -- It still belongs to RSA.
    Actually, the algorithm doesn't belong to RSA; what RSA has is the limited legal right to prevent others from using it. I can still write all about the algorithm.
  • I think academia is full of bullshit in many places. But to say professors are grossly overpaid is a mistake. Compare their salary relative to other professionals in their field. Consider the costs of obtaining a Phd (including forgone wages), then consider the "risks". I know most professors would actually be richer had they invested the money that went towards their education in the stock market wisely. Or did you know that there are something like 2 million PhDs in the US who can't find employment (or full-employment atleast)?
  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday November 12, 1999 @12:31PM (#1537856) Journal
    >so if I take a class on C programming, I can't
    >use what I learned in that class to write and
    >sell a book on C programming?

    This is second hand (I haven't verified it, but it is repeated throughout economics department), but supposedly Varian's first edition of "Microeconomic Analysis" was, err, a little too close to the course he took--that is, taken heavily from his own class notes. The end result: royalties on the first edition, and a second edition taken from scratch.

    >Copyright may protect the text of a lecture
    >itself, but no way does it prevent a student from
    >expressing the content of a lecture in his or her
    >own way.

    These are two different things. The content is the information. Notes are a representation of the lecture itself.

    >And I don't see how a restriction
    >that class notes are not to be used for profit
    >can possibly be upheld - after all, I might be
    >taking that class so I can get a profitable job
    >using what I learned...and I might just refer
    >back to those class notes.

    Again, that's different than publishing the notes.

    I'm certainly not going to jump into the middle of the fray on this (about as smart as getting into a discussion as to why the GPL isn't free :), but my own policy for my classes is that I will sue any publisher that doesn't have prior permission to print them. On the other hand, I also provide my lecture slides in advance--with lots of white space for writing--as I see no point in students simply scribbling down rather than paying attention.

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.