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Education Law

Cease-and-Desist Order Against Website Selling Class Notes Raises IP Questions

Posted Oct 18, 2010 11:40 AM CDT
By Sarah Mui

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Ryan Stevens launched his idea for NoteUtopia.com—a website that allows students to sell and buy notes for classes—while in a business entrepreneurship class at California State University, Sacramento. Stevens graduated and got permits from his alma mater as well as CSU Chico and CSU East Bay to pass out NoteUtopia marketing materials to students.

But last month, CSU University Counsel Gale Baker told Stevens in a letter that his site violates a section of California's state education code prohibiting anyone from selling or disseminating "academic presentations," class notes included for commercial purposes, the Sacramento Bee reported. All students from the 23 schools in the California State University system were also sent an e-mail warning them that they faced discipline or expulsion for selling class notes through NoteUtopia or by any other means.

The Bee reported that while Stevens complied with Baker's requests, he has contacted an attorney about fighting the state law.

The law was co-sponsored 10 years ago by the California Faculty Association in response to websites posting class notes without the permission of faculty members giving the lectures. Professors felt it was unfair that they spent hours assembling course materials only to see others profit from them.

What students are legally able to do with material they glean from class lectures "comes up with some regularity," Eric Goldman, director of the High-Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University Law School and a professor of Internet law, told the Bee.

James D. Nguyen, Beverly Hills attorney and former chairman of the intellectual property section of the State Bar of California, told the Los Angeles Times that when students summarize a lecture, they create a new work that they own under federal copyright law.

Hat Tip: Pat's Papers.

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