Taking Note: Professors and Students Struggle with Intellectual Property Issues on Note-Sharing Website

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By Kristen Coppola
Lemke Newsroom

Intellectual property has become an issue at the UofA between professors and students
with the rising popularity of a note-sharing website.

Notehall was started in 2007 for students to buy notes from other students. The company
keeps 50 percent of each sale as a commission.

“We aim to facilitate student success through applications that allow academic
interaction among peers and the opportunity to see supplemental materials for thorough
comprehension of all required subject matters,” according to the Notehall website.

The UA Academic Integrity Policy doesn’t directly address Notehall or similar sites, but
professors can choose to include a clause in the course syllabus, banning students from
using note-sharing sites, Provost Sharon Gaber said.

“For a faculty member, who does not want a student to take notes and then sell them, you
can write in your syllabus that the notes that you gather in this class are for your sole use
only,” Gaber said.

“State common law and federal copyright law protect my syllabus and lectures,”
according to the clause the UA has provided for professors who want to prevent students
from putting notes online.

“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,” according
to the clause.

The clause is crafted so that if necessary, it would stand up in court, said Ro DiBrezzo,
vice provost for academic affairs.

“I don’t know that it is anywhere near being resolved,” DiBrezzo said. “I think that it will
become bigger, and I think that it will probably become tested” in court.

Some UA students use Notehall to supplement notes they take during classes, including
junior Kimberly McGuire.

“Notehall is the only way I passed sociology and music lecture with flying colors,”
McGuire said. “It’s not dishonesty; it’s someone giving you a copy of their notes – really
good notes at that, notes good enough they should get paid for them.”

Supplementing notes with those on Notehall isn’t in violation of the Academic Integrity
Policy if the professor didn’t include the clause in the course syllabus, but it doesn’t
cultivate individual learning, DiBrezzo said.

“I would challenge the student that wrote that to think of what kind of learning took
place,” DiBrezzo said in response to McGuire’s use of Notehall. “If your suggestion is I
got better notes than I took, one might want to think about maybe you’re not a good note
taker and you should learn how to do that, because that is part of what we’re trying to
teach.”

Some students refuse to use Notehall because they want to protect the professors’ work
and research.

“I think that our personal notes shouldn’t be sold because the lecture was and remains
the property of the professor that gave it,” senior Claire Chesshir said. “I’m sure the
professors haven’t given permission for students to sell their lecture notes.”

DiBrezzo, who is a kinesiology professor as well as the vice provost, agreed with
Chesshir.

“I feel as though someone has taken my intellectual property and has used it,” DiBrezzo
said. “The unwritten contract in my mind is that I’m committed to the people who have
registered to my class and my commitment is to teach that class the best I can.”

Notehall doesn’t have quality assurance and isn’t fail-proof as some students have
learned.

“He spent the $6.99 and received notes that were not only totally useless, but absolutely
misleading, and he received a 36, I repeat, a 36 on a final,” junior Philip Culver, said of a
friend.

Junior Eric Carter took a class in which a student posted an answered study guide on
Notehall. The professor discovered the study guide and changed the test.

“They made the next test harder with a too complex study guide,” he said.

Though the actions of the professor may have irritated students in the class, it was within
the professor’s authority.

“More power to the faculty member for making it harder and getting upset about it,”
Gaber said.

Ensuring that students receive a quality education is the pinnacle of the discussions about
Notehall.

“Why wouldn’t you want to feel that you earned this degree?” Gaber said. “Why
wouldn’t it want to have a higher value and quality by knowing that you worked for it
and didn’t cheat your way through?

“This is a better institution than that. The students deserve better. Everyone deserves
knowing that it was a good, quality education.”