I can’t decide where I come down on this one–I can see elements of both sides. It does seems a bit excessive, though, to claim that you own all the words you utter in a lecture. From Wired:

“University of Florida professor Michael Moulton thinks copyright law protects the lectures he gives to his students, and he’s headed to court to prove it.

Moulton and his e-textbook publisher are suing Thomas Bean, who runs a company that repackages and sells student notes, arguing that the business is illegal since notes taken during college lectures violate the professor’s copyright.”

These notes are big business on most campuses, and can be very helpful to students who are not good note-takers. They are, alas, also helpful to students that don’t feel like getting up and going to lectures.

This part of the claim seems to have more validity:

“A less exotic copyright claim in the lawsuit alleges that Einstein’s Notes also copied and reprinted hundreds of test prep questions included in the professor’s text book and in his course software.”

That is basically charging kids for something they already bought (assuming they bought the textbook).

What do you think? Taking copyright too far, or defending intellectual property?
Discuss. :D

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Your lectures are your original creation, so copyright should apply. And when someone makes notes in class and then re-sells them, they should fall under the heading of a “derivative work”, which would still be covered. But in this case there appears to be a lot more – they copied test questions out of Moulton’s textbook. So if you’re selling your own lecture notes, and someone copies them and re-sells them, that seems like a copyright violation. To make matters worse, the complaint says that they stripped the copyright notification off the questions and added their own. That’s pretty bold.

    What’s also interesting to me is the issue of using someone’s name without their permission for commercial purposes. That wouldn’t have crossed my mind.

  2. I’d be concerned if they were lifting copywritten materials out of a book I’d written. I don’t know so much about lecture side of it.

    I guess this would force instructors to update and re-fresh their materials…which would force students to come to class, heh heh.

  3. This seems like clear-cut copyright infringement. It is not “fair use” if someone’s using your creativity, without your permission, to make themselves some money. It’s even worse if they then take credit for your creativity.

  4. Since the suit has much more detail than could ever be covered in a post, I’m like you: tough one.

    I can’t disagree with the previous commenters. But it seems that an easier solution would be to record every lecture: audio or video and copyright those recordings.

    This is the third copyright/privacy issue I’m involved in. First, from your post yesterday: a person is arguing with me that the subpoena is part of the “game.” Second, the people suing Google for invasion of privacy for Google Street View of their home, and now this!


  5. Do I consider my lecture content to be within my own copyright? Yes, I do, including the handouts I make up, and especially the PowerPoints because they are full of my own photography.

    Sure there are students who take notes for others. The ones I am familiar with are doing it for students with various disabilities (or are simply taking notes for a sick friend). OTOH, students who take notes for the purpose of selling them to others should not be doing so. Either the students are not in the class and haven’t paid for the instruction, or they are in the class and should be taking their own damn notes.

    But aside from all this, there’s an even larger issue here, and perhaps I’m not understanding the case properly (correct me if I am). WHY THE HELL is the professor rehashing what’s in the book, information and problems? Over a hundred years ago, profs used to do that because books were rare, so lecture was how the students got their primary material. Well, now the students all have their own textbooks. Do universities really pay their profs to stand there for hours and reiterate what’s in the overpriced books the students already have? (hmn, sounds like a blog post I should write…)


  6. As an Undergrad, I had a prof that didn’t want to bother with the 3pm lecture, so he just taped his 9am lecture and had a TA roll in a TV and show us a video tape.

    very annoying.
    And he was just reading the text book to us, so I eventually stopped going to TV lecture and still got an A-.

    I guess I have a more open approach to my lecture materials–I have shared them freely when asked by new grad students or other faculty. If I have a really unique and great way to teach ecology, why wouldn’t I share? It would benefit students.

    I’m not about to write a book though, which I can see would change one’s attitude.

  7. I don’t think that the issue is one of sharing your notes or not. You can share something freely and still assert copyright. You can also share something freely and still be pissed off when someone takes your work, strips your copyright notice off it, replaces it with their own, and then sells your work.

    It also creates some interesting pedagogical challenges. If you post your notes online, your attendance falls, no matter how good a job you are doing teaching, no matter how much added value there is in your classes. If you don’t, then you have students scribbling furiously instead of learning. That’s something you can play with, try to strike a balance…but not if you have someone else selling your lecture notes. If that happens, then the only tool you have left is to try to bribe students with in-class points/compulsory attendance. Or you can figure out how to be the ultimate test-writer, come up with exams that really probe the knowledge of the students. But then you’d fail half the class…

  8. You can also share something freely and still be pissed off when someone takes your work, strips your copyright notice off it, replaces it with their own, and then sells your work.

    Good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re right.

  9. i think a lecturer’s notes is copyrighted because s/he has taken the time to prepare the notes, some even forming notes in a way that students can understand the main points of a lecture easily. some lecturers do not copy directly from books, so definitely these lecturers should be protected by the law.

    on the other hand, i’ve had lecturers who lifted stuff right out of wikipedia without even referencing it, so to these lecturers i don’t really have much respect for and have no claim whatsoever for copyright in this case.

  10. There are a series of instruction on iTunes covering beginning micro and macro-economics and The Legal and Regulatory environment in Business, produced by Professor C.(An internet acquaintance of mine.) The classes, while copyrighted, are free to all for download. Contrary to a previous poster here, Prof. C. shows that anyone desiring instruction should not have a lack of money be a deterrent to learning. Kinda weird coming from a guy teaching about capitalism, but he sure is my hero!

  11. I forgot to mention, the lessons are regular student-filled classes that have been recorded.

  12. Wow, there are almost too many things to comment on here.

    If all spoken words are copyright, then we could never comment on whatever someone else speaks about. There goes political discourse.

    We would also never be able to share our interpretations of a speech or lecture – or laugh at complete bullshit. I am sure that there are some people who would like this interpretation.

    As long as the lecture is not being recorded and reproduced verbatim, selling ones own point of view should not be a problem.

  13. dikkon:

    As long as the lecture is not being recorded and reproduced verbatim, selling ones own point of view should not be a problem.

    In this case, he claims that his work was reproduced vertbatim, at least in part. But there’s also the issue of how he organised his lectures, the way he structured the material. These are all creative endeavours which copyright law protects, as best I can tell.

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