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On June 1st, the California Assembly passed a novel measure aimed at stopping the Internet sale of classroom notes taken at public universities. The measure will now go to the state senate for a vote. The first-of-its-kind proposal has opened a rift between faculty members, who claim sole ownership of their lectures, and university administrators, who contend they should play a role in campus business decisions. The sale of lecture notes on the Internet has become a sore subject in academia, legal experts say. Although a professor’s scripted notes qualify for copyright protection, oral, non-fixed lectures do not. And while student note-taking is perfectly legal under the fair use doctrine, the sale of those notes for commercial gain has raised serious intellectual property issues. Those concerns prompted the California Faculty Association to seek legislative help. It came in the form of Assembly Bill 1773, introduced in January by Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). According to Romero’s legislative director, Dennis Hall, the measure originally barred anyone other than students enrolled in the particular courses from recording classroom lectures or presentations. It also prohibited students from selling their notes for commercial purposes without prior written consent from their professors. AB 1773 defined presentations as any academic or aesthetic presentation that is not fixed in a tangible medium of expression. It also set civil fines for non-student violators. The provision requiring professorial consent to record lectures ran into heavy opposition from administrators in California’s three-tiered higher education system — the community colleges, the state university, and the University of California — who charged that it “captured” ownership of the materials for the faculty, Hall said. The judiciary and finance committees also found fault with the bill’s penalty amounts, he said. Even after Romero struck the controversial language and tinkered with the penalties, the bill is still “very, very touchy,” according to Hall. Although it now goes after only dot-coms that publish notes without authorization, questions remain: Who does the authorizing? What if a college wants to stop professional note-taking but the faculty okays it? “We’re tripping over that now,” Hall said. UC administrators think they have a role in approving business transactions on campus, a knowledgeable source said May 30, while AB 1773′s sponsors want the sale of class notes to be a decision made solely by faculty members. Moreover, said the source, problems like this are better addressed by university policies, not legislation. UC has an internal standing committee on copyright that is weighing commercial note-taking and other issues, the source said, adding that it makes sense to wait until that process plays out before legislating. The bill is “still very much a work in progress,” said the source, adding that UC officials are trying to work out a compromise. California State University administrators are “officially opposed to this bill unless it’s amended,” said CSU spokesman Ken Swisher. Like UC, CSU chiefs want to deal with the problem through policy, not law, he said. But the state schools are considering an amendment that would give faculty members and school administrators shared authority to permit the recording of lecture material, Swisher added.

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