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Illegal Class Notes

When you take a college course, who owns the notes you take during lectures? More to the point, can students sell their notes to a company that will then turn around and sell them to other students?

Long ago, when I was in college, I remember there being at least one vendor of notes for the largest undergraduate classes, so I thought that issue was settled.

I guess not. A University of Florida professor is suing for copyright violations over sales of the notes from his class. With a digital twist, of course.

The professor involved, Michael Moulton, teaches wildlife ecology and conservation. A few years ago, starting with the notes that he used to deliver his lectures, Moulton gradually built an electronic version of a text book. After getting the University to waive its copyright on the material, he worked with a company called Faulkner Press to copyright and formalize the material. That material is now available as a $90 CD that includes audio-visual material, study guides, and practice examine questions. It’s apparently required material for any students enrolled in Moulton’s class.

Meanwhile, a company called Class Notes, doing business as Einstein’s Notes, was performing the typical service of collecting notes and class materials, and selling them to students. In the process, the suit alleges, they ran afoul of Moulton’s copyrights; Falukner seeks an injunction against their distribution of course material, plus fees and damages.

A $90 CD? Well, that’s probably cheaper than many college textbooks these days.

However, I wonder how many original ideas are in the professor’s lectures and how many he’s adapted from others. Doesn’t he owe them some of the royalties?

I have no idea, but the case is still another interesting copyright question.


  1. glen

    Bizarre stuff.
    So the professor could take all the ideas he’s ever been exposed to, maybe even some that occur to him as a consequence of a student question or assignment, process them a bit, package them up as a college course, and then sell them (through the agency of the education industrial complex).

  2. Dave

    If the professor had developed his own curriculum with the intent to create a stronger academic environment and/or protect students from paying $200+ for textbooks and workbooks that are worth nothing once the next ‘edition’ comes out, we would be praising him…but he sold out. I wonder if he realized what he was doing when he did it, or if he regrets it now?

  3. Alan

    He’s not copyrighting the ideas he’s copyrighting the specific presentation, and to the extent that his material is original that is his right. If students copy and freely share (or even sell) their own notes rather than an exact transcription of the instructor’s material then I have no problem with that, but if the note company is selling Moulton’s work for their own profit then I hope they get stopped.

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