Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Taking Intellectual Property Rights Too Far

In this post, and in comments on the linked post, I argued that teachers "own" the lesson plans they create in order to teach students, and that I could find no compelling reason to forbid them from making a buck by selling those lesson plans.

This, however, is a different facet of that topic:

Some Harvard professors are taking very seriously their "intellectual property rights" and have claimed copyright to the ideas that they spread in their classrooms. What prompted this was a website in which students posted their notes to help other students.

The professors have cracked down. It might have been enough to legislate against this behavior in particular. Instead, they wrapped their objection in the great fallacy of our age: the professor owns his ideas and they may not be spread without his permission...

Another approach is the one taken by Harvard and, most explicitly, by the University of Texas, which has suggested that professors make the following contract with students:

My lectures are protected by state common law and federal copyright law. They are my own original expression and I record them at the same time that I deliver them in order to secure protection. Whereas you are authorized to take notes in class thereby creating a derivative work from my lecture, the authorization extends only to making one set of notes for your own personal use and no other use. You are not authorized to record my lectures, to provide your notes to anyone else or to make any commercial use of them without express prior permission from me.


You can make "no other use" of what you learn? Really? That sort of smashes the whole point of education, doesn't it?

That's absurd, as it would rule out sharing your notes in a study group! I can see not wanting students to videotape your lectures and post them on the internet--I can understand a variety of reasons, not all of them academic, for prohibiting that. But part of education is sharing your knowledge, and the UT/Harvard statement above in effect prohibits students from sharing of the very knowledge they paid for!

I can see copyrighting your lecture notes if you hand them out, or any other documents you create, if you really want to go that far. But seriously, not being able to share your knowledge? No way.

3 comments:

Scott McCall said...

Unfortunately, I believe the same copyright rules apply here as they do at concerts.

The students are paying the teachers, therefore they own part of the intellectual property (unless notified in advance they can not share/record lecures) delivered in class.

The same reason that patrons at concerts are allowed to record/take photographs at concerts, but employees of the venue are not. The patrons own part of the intellectual property because they paid for the show, whereas employees did not. This, however, becomes void once the artist or hosting party declares no photographs/recording is permited

Mrs. C said...

Um, and HOW much are they paying for these non-shareable lectures??

angryimmigrant said...

Ah, I seem to have misspoken the other day, welcoming teachers to the idiocy of IP law. They're already here...

However, as the school points out (even a stopped clock is right twice a day), the video recordings may violate a prof's copyright, but derivative works (notes) are a horse of a different color.

A prof has no rights over derivative works, and "authorization" from the prof is meaningless. It's like a grocer saying that you're only authorized to make one cake for each bag of flour you buy -- the claim is absurd.

MIT, for comparison, is taking the other route, and widely opening a huge amount of world-class courseware for anyone on the Internet to use:
http://ocw.mit.edu

Take a wild guess which one of these schools will be more successful/influential in the next 50 years...