By: Debby Winters
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just buy the notes from class and you wouldn’t even have to go to class? For decade people have been borrowing notes from each other, and some schools have even paid students to be “note takers” and sold the service to other students. But now, there’s a whole new concept of students selling their notes for profit. The problem with the concept is that it may be a copyright infringement.
Sites like Notehall.com, which was acquired by Chegg.com (a textbook-rental company) last June, allows users to buy and sell class notes and study guides to each other. Notehall gained recognition after appearing on the ABC reality show Shark Tank in October 2009. Since that time other competitors, such as Course Hero and Koofers, have sprung up.
Here’s how it works: Users buy “credits” for materials, and around half of the profits go to the sellers. The other half of the profits go to N
Supporters of the site highlight that Notehall buyers benefit from using the notes to save time for studying while the sellers benefit from the process of compiling those notes to be sold. For sellers, the potential profits and recognition for creating the notes are additional incentive to make thorough material that they themselves will benefit from using.
Proponents say it encourages the seller to think through the material while explaining it to others, while it allows the buyer to get a different perspective on how the material is presented.
However, many of these sellers just take the notes from class and may be profiting from the intellectual property of the professor, in violation of copyright laws.
What can the universities and professors do about it? Some universities have policies against such activities. The University of California system has policies standing against the commercialization of class notes. Selling notes is also a violation of California state law, regardless of whether or not the student took the notes themselves. But they may be able to do even more since buying and selling notes from class not only brings up copyright but also ethical issues. Posting a copy of the instructor’s Powerpoints and summaries online without permission falls under copyright infringement be it for profit or not. Introducing commercialization into this equation makes the violation of intellectual rights even more serious. In the Colorado State University guide to Notehall, Course Hero, and Koofers it explains, “Uploading an instructor’s work product is a copyright violation issue. Examples are a PowerPoint presentation or study guide prepared by the instructor, even if it has been distributed to the class. Students may not profit from another’s work.”
Notehall terms and conditions are that class notes “must be substantially rewritten after class and include independent thought and analysis, research and information.” However, the line between what constitutes violating these terms or not is rather vague. And how many students really spend the time to include independent thought and analysis. The next question in this commercialization of notes is how long will it be before we have ‘note farmers’ – people who go to class just to take notes and sell them?