Standing in front of the almost-full College Hall room 200 last Thursday, History Professor Bruce Kuklick addressed his class about what he called a great "moral problem" -- Versity.com. A commercial Web site that pays students $8 to $12 per lecture to post their notes online, Versity.com features notes from college courses across the country, including Kuklick's American History class. And when he found out about the Web site last week, an irate Kuklick vowed to address the issue with his class the next day. "I'm officially telling you that you shouldn't be [posting my lectures online]," Kuklick warned his students, saying the site seems to violate professors' intellectual property. Kuklick isn't alone in his concern. Last month, Yale University demanded that Versity.com remove the lecture notes of its professors from its Web site, citing as reasons possible copyright law violations and university rules prohibiting students from participating in commercial enterprises. "This was clearly, in our opinion, something that at the level of Versity.com was violating the law and at the level of the undergraduates was violating our regulations," Yale spokesman Lawrence Haas said. Although Penn currently does not have a policy regarding distribution of course notes online, a committee of administrators already investigating intellectual property rights on the Internet has begun the process of addressing the issue. "We do believe that the commercial use of such notes may violate intellectual property policies and we're investigating," said Deputy Provost and English Professor Peter Conn, who chairs the committee. More than 10 percent of Penn undergraduates are registered users on the Web site, according to Versity. com, which has online notes for 52 Penn classes this semester. "We believe that posting faculty lecture notes without their consent -- and even without their knowledge -- violates canons of collegiality," Conn said. Versity.com officials, however, deny breaking any laws. According to Versity.com spokeswoman Janet Cardinell, the Web site only took down Yale's lecture notes, "in order to have discussions with them." "We've reviewed the copyright laws and the copyright does not extend to coverage for basic historic fact, or scientific fact or information in the public domain," Cardinell said. Many Penn professors had no prior knowledge that their lecture notes were available online. The reactions of professors who found out about the site ranged from mild surprise to outright anger at Versity.com for not seeking their permission before posting notes from their courses. Psychology Professor David Williams, the chair of the undergraduate division of the department, saw posting of notes from his lecture on Versity's Web site as "neither good nor bad." "It's an inevitable consequence of the availability of the Web," Williams said. But Legal Studies Professor Phil Nichols, like Kuklick, was not happy. "I'll announce it in class," Nichols said. "If I find out anyone's feeding notes to Versity, I'll fail them." Many students said they see few problems with having class notes posted on the Internet. One student who sells her notes to Versity.com said she sees no moral or legal issues conflicting with her job. "As long as it's not plagiarism, as long as it's your own interpretation of the lecture, it's fine," she said. Statistics Professor Abraham Wyner, who was aware his lecture notes were accessible on Versity.com, saw no major legal or ethical difficulties. "I'm perfectly willing to participate in such an endeavor," Wyner said. But he, like many other professors, was disappointed by the quality of the notes. "What they put on the site looks like it took about five minutes to do," Wyner said. According to Cardinell, other colleges -- but not Penn -- have contacted Versity.com about the online lecture notes. But Yale is the first school to request an all-out ban of lecture notes on the site. "We saw [Yale's request] as a chance to raise the debate," Cardinell said. "A lot of what's going on is misinformation and lack of information of what the product really is and how students are using it."Comments powered by Disqus
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