Can A Professor Force Students To Destroy All Their Notes?

from the education-vs.-intellectual-property dept

One of the more interesting questions I've come across in the past is how does intellectual property function in an educational institution. We already know that thanks to the disastrous Bayh-Dole Act, universities have become a lot more interested in enforcing intellectual property rights for profit, rather than focusing on their charters of sharing information and educating. In many ways, the concepts of intellectual property and education come into significant conflict with each other. And that brings us to a story submitted by Joe Reda, concerning a nameless economics professor at an unknown university supposedly forcing students to destroy all their notes at the end of the semester, officially to avoid having such notes fall into the hands of future students.

To be honest, I find the story so incredible that it's difficult to believe it actually happened. If there's anyone out there who can confirm that it actually happened, and provide details on the university and professor, that would be helpful (assuming there are multiple students in the class, and the professor has done this more than once, there should be at least someone else who can corroborate the story). However, if it actually did happen, there are numerous problems with it. First, and most importantly, it's unlikely the strategy would actually work. What about students who took notes in an electronic form (increasingly common these days) and had backup copies elsewhere? There's simply no way the professor could actually destroy all the notes. Second, it's difficult to see how the professor has any claim, whatsoever, to the notes unless she was discussing specific handouts over which she owned the copyright or, perhaps, verbatim copying -- but even then, you'd have to think that such notes wouldn't be under the complete control of the professor such that she could demand their destruction. Honestly, if the story is true, you'd simply have to question the quality of such a professor who seems to have confused the main purpose of her job: educating students vs. preventing cheating. It's almost like the entertainment industry so focused on preventing piracy that they forgot about creating good content and entertaining people.

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  1. identicon
    sf suave, 28 Jan 2009 @ 4:25am

    My school claimed ownership of my work... and then they profited from it!

    I know this is slightly off track, and a bit of a ramble, but opens up an interesting question about who acutally "owns" the results of your course work...

    When I was at University, in the UK, I was given an assignment to design a LAN. The main aim was to design the LAN and produce a couple of real world quotes to meet and exceed the requirements.

    At the end of the course I provided a design document with 3 quotes all for different spec LANs that I produced by researching the market, calling suppliers and agreeing prices.

    Little did I know at the outset, the University had actually been commissioned by the regional fire service to design LANs for their fire stations which were all to be rebuilt/redesigned. The commission, as reported by the local press at the time, was worth £8000. Not reported in the press, however, was the fact that the University were so impressed with my submission that they didn't even bother to re-write it before handing it off the the fire service, they didn't even take my name off it!

    Now, was I entitled to any of the money? My work, my money right? Err... No. In fact, when I spoke to the University about it they claimed that they owned it as I had ,quote "handed it over". I was obviously not nieve enough to accpet this without question, so I spoke a solicotor (lawyer). The guy backed up the Universities claim that as I had freely handed this over I was not entitled to claim "payment" after the fact.

    I've not persued this any further since but, when I'm reminded of it, it always grates a little...


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