Online note publishing brings speculation
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 00:09
Faculty Senate members investigated potentially illegal websites that allow users to post and sell lecture notes online and said they are in the process of proposing solutions to the problem, according to Faculty Senate President Sheldon Pollack.
Such sites could be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects professors’ ideas expressed in the classroom, according to the United States Copyright Office website. The act was signed in 1998 by former President Clinton and states that a website practices copyright infringement when it earns advertising income from a page that hosts protected material.
According to Pollack, students selling notes to these websites has been a problem for an indeterminate amount of time.
He said the issue would have remained unresolved if not for a student who asked a professor for permission to post class notes to a note-sharing website. Pollack said the professor declined and brought the issue to the attention of the Senate.
“The Senate got dragged in because it becomes an issue if a senator makes a complaint,” Pollack said. “Now the question is should we make a flat ban against this process?”
Philosophy professor Jeffrey Jordan, former president of the Faculty Senate, said the problem was brought to his attention last year after a professor raised the issue to the provost’s office.
“At least one professor, maybe more, didn’t like the idea of a student selling their notes,” Jordan said.
He said he was the first Faculty Senate president to hear about the problem, and that there are three ways to address it.
The original solution would be for professors to send a DMCA takedown notice to websites that use their material.
“Professors can ask the DMCA for notes posted, but it only works for notes from one lecture,” Jordan said. “The professor would have to Google their notes and send a notice after every single lecture, and that could get cumbersome.”
He said another option would be a flat ban on students posting notes online, however, Pollack believes that a general motion could do more harm than good.
“I don’t want an overall UD rule because other professors might actually want their students to do it,” Pollack said. “I’m personally indifferent. Also, if notes were posted on a personal site without any money to gain, a student might still end up in trouble if there was a flat prohibition.”
Both Pollack and Jordan said the best option would be for professors to include whether students are allowed to use note-sharing websites in their syllabi.
Pollack said a syllabus is a binding document to a student and that he proposed the plan because he felt it would be the most effective way to stop the problem. He said his idea will be voted on this Monday.
“I didn’t want a flat rule, but I didn’t want to leave faculty unprotected,” Pollack said. “If a professor doesn’t want them to do it, they can put it on their syllabus. If a student still does it, then they’re in violation of student conduct.”
Senior Alexa Scoglietti said she has never used note-sharing websites. She said she could understand why students would want to use them, but she thinks these students should work harder for their classes.
She compared the websites to an online study group, but said they were not fundamentally the same.
“There’s a difference between having a study group and buying somebody else’s notes because you don’t want to make your own,” Scoglietti said. “It’s a group effort in study groups whereas this is just somebody’s effort that you’re buying.”