Versity.com may iolate copyright laws by posting class notes on a Web site. When it comes to the controversial Versity.com, there's one thing most everyone agrees on -- the legality of buying and posting class notes online is a very precise shade of gray. The site, which pays college students to post their lecture notes online, received negative publicity recently after Yale University demanded that all of its professors' lecture notes be taken down. Yale argued that each time Varsity.com features new notes online, the company violates copyright laws. And although Penn has not taken any action against the Web site, a committee of administrators is looking into the issue -- which, according to Penn Legal Studies Professor Dan Hunter, is very complex. Hunter said that while students would be infringing on copyright law if they copied professors' notes verbatim, because they are selling only their interpretations of the lectures, it may not be against the law. "There is a loophole here," Hunter said. He explained that copyright law protects the expression of an idea. The students employed by Versity.com are actually expressing the ideas, which are given by professors. The students therefore have a degree of the copyright material, Hunter said. And however complex the issue of copyright may be, Versity.com spokeswoman Janet Cardinell insists that the Web site is not infringing upon the law. She said that the copyright laws do not extend to information in the public domain and scientific facts -- the type of material presented in the introductory courses for which notes are posted. "These classes provide basic information," Cardinell said. "The student in the class is writing down their interpretation." The Versity.com notes are designed to be value-added, as the notes are meant to be used as supplements to professors' lectures, she explained. Cardinell admitted, though, that "there is a gray area of the law." Problems may arise, she said, because at times professors plan to publish the material they present in class, and thus want to protect it from being made available to the public before they are finished. Several Penn professors expressed concern earlier in the week because they were not informed that notes were being posted for their classes . In addition, some of the notes were of low quality. "We understand their concerns," Cardinell said, adding that Versity.com often does not contact professors before posting notes from their classes but plans to begin doing so and will likely encourage professors to review the notes before they are posted. This process would allow professors to have control over what is published and to find out if students are understanding the material presented in class, she explained. "We will work with professors individually so that everyone is mutually satisfied," Cardinell said. Versity.com has not contacted any of the Penn professors whose notes are online. Penn Deputy General Counsel Wendy White said that the University has a committee currently looking into the site, which has notes posted for 52 Penn courses in a range of departments including Economics, Biology, Philosophy, Political Science and Computer Science. "It is an issue for the University whether Penn wants to permit this activity," White said. "The Provost's office and our office need to take a look at it, and we are." White added that there will likely not be a problem if a professor has granted a student permission to post the course notes and if the notes accurately reflect class discussions.Comments powered by Disqus
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