December 20, 2009
To own the truth
Who owns what professors teach? Can knowledge in the sense of knowing what the truth is about a particular subject really said to be someone's property?
The basic legal question of whether a professor or university has any claim over the notes a student takes in a lecture is, it turns out, not a simple one to answer. According to copyright scholars, it depends on how the lecture was given and what the notes look like. Copyright only protects works of authorship that are fixed in a "tangible medium of expression" - at the very least there need to be notes that the lecture was read from, or a Powerpoint presentation. And the closer the student notes are to an exact transcript of the lecture, the more likely they are to be infringing the professor's copyright.Damn! When I was in law school I used to write down as accurately as possible almost everything a professor said (because my experience taught me that exams tended to heavily favor what professors actually discussed in class). Little did I know that the more accurate my notes were, the more I was guilty of copyright infringement.
You can't be too careful! Not that any professor in those days would have cared about copious note-taking, but now that they can be easily uploaded to the Internet, it's a different -- and very commercial -- game, although the courts are divided:
The few times courts have weighed in have produced contradictory decisions: A 1969 lawsuit in California in which a UCLA professor sued a notes service found that the professor did indeed have the intellectual property rights to his lecture, but the University of Florida lost a 1996 suit against a similar company.I find it hard to see note-sharing as theft.
Harvard professors Stephen Pinker and Greg Mankiw have a different takes on the matter.
Pinker says he was excited about the interactive promise of the site's online study groups but agnostic about the class notes aspect. "There's nothing that I would say in class that I wouldn't say in any other public forum, so I kind of had nothing to hide," says Pinker.I see Mankiw's point about not making it easier to cut class, although that's a different issue than whether detailed verbatim notes constitute stolen intellectual property.
I am not at all confident that I am right about this one.I don't know whether he's right or not, there's so much arrogance in the world of academia that I admire any professor who who is willing to admit he might be wrong.
posted by Eric on 12.20.09 at 12:45 PM
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