EDITOR’S NOTE – This is the second in a two-part series examining the recent closure of two online services targeting the student market. Today’s article looks at the legislation that forced Versity.com, an online note- taking service, to stop offering Internet lecture notes.
The California legislature has decided that lectures are the property of the professors who give them, putting an end to the attempts of some online companies to offer students class notes.
Versity.com, which supplied lecture notes for over 150 universities across the country, ended its service in the midst of accusations that it did not protect professors’ intellectual property. The company hired student note-takers for as much as $30 per lecture, then posted free notes on its web page for students, while pulling in advertising money to stay afloat.
The site did not require students to receive permission from the professor whose notes were being sold, and used amateur note-takers. Faculty also had no way to check the accuracy of the notes posted on the Web.
In early fall, State Assembly member Gloria Romero authored a bill prohibiting the unauthorized recording and publication of professors’ lecture notes at any UC, Cal State University, community college and private university in the state. Previously, the UC Code of Conduct banned such activities, yet no inclusive law for all state institutions of higher education existed.
Companies that sell lecture notes without consent of university administration and faculty are now subject to civil penalty.
Campus note-taking services, such as Associated Students Notes, are still legal because they use professional graduate students as note-takers.
“We have a service contract ahead of time with the professor, which gives us permission to send out students to take notes for us,” A.S. Notes Manager Chuck Wilson said. “Versity.com does not hire qualified grad students. They take professor’s notes without permission and void the professor’s patent. It is good that this bill was passed.”
John Chapman, an associate professor of the dramatic art division of dance, said students lose out on their education once they resort to going online for lecture notes instead of actually attending lecture.
“Nothing is ever simple in this world,” he said. “I have to confess that I don’t like to see students who don’t come to lectures do well in courses. There is something that just does not seem right about it. Maybe it is that listening and taking good notes is part of the learning process. Being able to extract the important points and themes of a lecture for yourself is an important skill and if you simply use notes prepared by someone else, you’re missing out.”
However, he added that he could see no moral or ethical reason for preventing people from sharing or even selling lecture notes if they want to. “Really the problem is with the system of testing,” he said. “The lectures should contain material that [a person] simply reading lecture notes wouldn’t do well [on].”
Senior art studio major Joseph Chong said the law is necessary to protect professors and students from the wrong information.
“I think it should be regulated by the school,” he said. “Education is the number one priority, so you want the student to receive something approved by the professor. Who knows what the notes are about if they aren’t approved?”