Commercial Note-Taking Ventures, Provost's Statement on
To provide information to help instructors determine whether or not to allow the taking of notes for commercial purposes in their classes.
All members of the instructional staff
Web sites offering college course notes, study guides, homework answers, and examinations have proliferated in recent years. Many are commercial ventures that sell to students' class notes taken by others, or they may provide, for a fee, other course-specific information. University rules, in combination with U.S. copyright laws, permit instructors to determine whether these commercial ventures may operate in the classroom or use materials that the instructors have posted for the specific use of students enrolled in the classes.
The University authorizes enrolled students to take careful notes for the purpose of mastering the course material. No university authorization exists for an enrolled student to take notes for the purpose of selling them for profit. It is the instructor’s right as the originator of the instructional lecture to determine whether individuals will be permitted to take notes in class and use them for commercial purposes.
The basis for this right to give or withhold permission comes from three existing university regulations:
Article V, section 5, paragraph 2 of the Faculty Senate Rules and Regulations permits the instructor to deny visitors or auditors permission to attend the class.
The Comprehensive Fee Schedule, section 6.9, provides that a non-degree seeking undergraduate or graduate student may be authorized to participate on a space-available basis in a university course as a visitor if the student pays tuition for the privilege of visiting the course, or if the student is a Kansas resident over 60 years of age.
Article 22, section B, paragraph 2 of the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct may permit an instructor to prohibit an enrolled student from making commercial use of the instructor’s lectures or other materials such as notes, study guides, or sample problems that have been provided for the exclusive use by students enrolled in the course. That section reads, "An offense against property is committed when a student . . . knowingly and without proper consent or authorization removes, uses, misappropriates, or sells the property of another person or the University." The sale of student notes of an instructor’s lectures may be a violation of the instructor’s property rights, i.e., copyright.
Under U.S. law, materials are protected by copyright when they meet the criteria of originality and are fixed in a medium of expression. In order to fix lectures in a medium of expression, instructors are encouraged to use methods such as making detailed lecture notes, detailed overheads, slides, or online presentation slides (using programs such as MS PowerPoint), taping the lectures, etc. Any original presentation materials or handouts should include the word “Copyright,” the author/instructor’s name and the date, as this provides notice of the ownership of the copyright. At the beginning of the academic term, instructors should inform students, both orally and in writing, of the copyrighted nature of materials. In order to obtain statutory monetary damages in court, an author needs to register the material with the U.S. Copyright Office.
By taking these steps, instructors strengthen their claim to copyright for lectures and other materials and directly notify students of restrictions on distributing, producing, and preparing derivative works from those lectures. Furthermore, by taking the steps outlined above, instructors also strengthen their right to control and authorize reproduction and distribution of the lectures or other materials for others’ profit, similar to the right an author has to authorize a journal to publish original written work.
If an instructor chooses to give a commercial note taking venture the right to take notes in class or to provide the vendor other materials for resale, the instructor should do so in writing in order to avoid misunderstandings. Should an instructor permit such note taking and choose to inform students of the availability of these notes, the instructor may not profit from such sales and should take care to avoid any conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest.
If after having taken these steps, an instructor believes copyright rights are being infringed, it is the right of the individual instructor, as the owner of the copyright, to pursue legal action.
Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
University of Kansas
Strong Hall, 1450 Jayhawk Boulevard, Room 250
Lawrence, KS 66045
07/01/2016: Updated to remove gendered pronouns.
01/05/2015: Policy formatting cleanup (e.g., bolding, spacing).
10/28/2014: Fixed broken link to Comprehensive Fee Schedule in Related Policies; fixed spacing of Contact field.