Are California universities guilty of copyright infringement?

An intellectual property storm is brewing among California university students and the schools they attend. Schools, like the University of California and California State University, are cracking down on what students do with notes taken in class.

The schools have stringent policies about what happens to class notes, especially when students try to sell them for profit. Are students guilty of copyright infringement by selling school notes, or are the universities violating federal laws that give students ownership of the notes they take?

The California Education Code bans the selling, publishing and distribution of class notes by students or third parties. Several schools have issued restrictive policies that include penalties for students who sell notes.

UC and CSU have actively pursued websites where campus class notes are sold. Versity.com raised the ire of the University of California at Berkeley in 1999. NoteUtopia and Chegg-owned Notehall chose to cease-and-desist selling student course notes.

A UC Berkeley law professor, the school’s head of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, contends that students are the true owners of the notes they take in class. The clinical professor agrees that instructors own copyrights to their own published materials. He stated that student-crafted notes are not the same. The professor claims class notes are the intellectual property of the students who write them, protected by federal copyright law and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

The Berkeley professor believes the state would lose in a copyright battle. The legal challenge to state and school policies has yet to be made. Both sides would be well advised to consult with experienced copyright attorneys.

Source: Sacramento Bee, “California universities make new moves in fight on notes,” Erica Perez, Feb. 2, 2012