Online Services for Lecture Notes Anger Some Officials





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Many UC Berkeley officials and professors are outraged over the prevalence of online lecture notes, which are often published without the consent of professors or the university.

New online notes services, such as Versity.com and StudentU.com, are infringing on copyright law and violating campus policies, said Michael Smith, assistant chancellor of legal affairs.

"(Online notes services) are in violation of university policy," Smith said. "The university has a policy that no private entity can market or commercialize lecture notes."

In addition, he said publishing the notes online does not mean the Web companies can infringe on the copyrights of others, especially professors.

Michael Hardie, a teaching grants coordinator in the Office of Media Services, said that the publication of unauthorized lecture notes creates a third problem.

"There is an issue about the quality of the notes, whether the content is reliable," Hardie said.

Despite the criticism from university officials, Versity.com and StudentU.com continue to market notes for a slew of lower and upper division classes.

Several representatives of the

companies said posting lecture notes is hardly theft of intellectual property.

Jeff Lawson, president and cofounder of Versity.com, said that the lecture notes are a student's own expansion on the lectures.

"What Versity.com posts is not a verbatim copy of the lecture. A student (notetaker) takes down essential facts, takes those facts and interprets them by expanding on what they think is important," Lawson said.

Versity.com has a clause in its user agreement stating that their notes are student interpretations of professors' lectures.

"The lecture notes contained within Versity.com are a notetaker's interpretation of what was presented in the lecture. They are not a professor's lecture notes," the agreement states.

Lawson said that his company provides notes for large introductory courses. Copyright laws do not apply to the communication of basic facts and general knowledge about the classes, he added.

Those who view Versity.com benefit from the "interpretation" of smart and diligent students who take notes for the service, Lawson said. The notetakers also benefit from having to re-read and type their notes.

Oran Wolf, resident of Study Free, the parent company of StudentU.com, said that publishing the lecture notes online is not a violation of the copyright laws because the notes are provided for educational purposes.

Copyright infringement and campus policy violation, however, are not the only problems associated with online lecture notes. Students could face serious disciplinary action if they are caught selling their notes to online services.

Student notetakers who work for companies like Versity.com and StudentU.com could face student conduct charges, said Douglas Zuidema, manager of the Office of Student Conduct.

"If the student sells their notes to a private entity that would be violating the code and this office would hold the student responsible," he added.

The Berkeley Campus Code of Student Conduct prohibits students from selling their lecture notes.

The code outlaws "selling or distributing course lecture notes" and "using (the notes) for any commercial purpose without the express permission of the instructor."

Zuidema said that the part of the student code banning the selling of lecture notes without the professor's permission is a new addition.

He said that he hopes that students who are selling their notes to online services will realize that they are, in fact, in violation of the student code.

But Lawson said that the school's Student Code regulations only hinder students.

"We don't think it is the university's intention to stifle competition and limit the resources that are available to the students," Lawson said.

Wolf said he did not comprehend why a beneficial service, such as online lecture notes, violated the student conduct code.

"I don't really understand why (unauthorized notetaking) would be an act of misconduct," he said. "(Students) who financially could use the money can put some money in their pockets."

He said that UC Berkeley students sell their lecture notes to Black Lightning, the official note-taking service of the school.

But Black Lightning only sends notetakers to classes where the professors consent to the service, according to Raleigh Wilson, the manager of Black Lightning. He said that the unauthorized services are hurting the school.

"It's terrible," Wilson said about the quality of most of the notes. "I think it's a rip-off. All they want to do is sell you something."

Wilson also said that Versity.com's argument that lecture notes are merely an "interpretation" of the lecture is wrong, and is infuriating teachers.

Students had varied opinions about the existence of online lecture notes.

Junior Milan Sheth said the notes should be available and free to students.

"It should be free for all," Sheth said. "(Students) should be able to enhance (their) education any way (they) want."

Other students sided with the university, saying that the lectures are the property of the instructor.

"I think the lectures are the professors' work, and they shouldn't be used without the professors' permission," said Watin Patel, a UC Berkeley junior.

Freshman Jason Tarn said he looked at some of the Web sites featuring free lecture notes, but thinks the notes do not substitute going to class.

"People should just go to lecture," he said.

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