Sunday, January 24, 2010

Law School Faculty and On-Line Course Outline Repositories

I don't think our faculty are too much behind the curve when it comes to how law students are using the internet these days, so hopefully faculty at other law schools would be just as surprised to learn that there are web site where students can post and download outlines for their courses.

One of our professors posted a message to the faculty e-mail list that noted this:
Hello all,

I just ran across a site offering outlines based on Loyola Professors'
courses for sale. Here is the link:

Would this explain why, I am sometimes under the impression that some
students anticipate my questions, eagerly volunteer answers which sometimes,
and to their dismay, call for some tweaking on my part?

Doesn't this practice raise some intellectual property issues?

[Name Redacted]

Its a slow day at the reference desk since its early in the semester, its a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, and especially since the Saints are about the kick the Vikings' ASS in the first NFC championship that the Saints have ever hosted at home in the dome (I'm leaving early to go watch, DUH!), so I spent some time composing the following reply and posted it back to the faculty list:
[Name Redacted] (and everyone else),
This web site is indeed an amazing trove of outlines from/for our students. If the faculty here weren’t aware of these sort of sites, your message is a definite wake-up call. But the internet has really only made the sharing of these outline more efficient - I think we all knew long ago that these things were shared and passed down from class to class in paper longer before centralized web sites like these were available (when I graduated law school in 1995, we were still, uhhh, I mean my FELLOW STUDENTS were still swapping outlines via xerox machine).
The intellectual property issue here is an interesting question, but one that I don’t think would help to stop anything like this. (I presume you don’t mean the IP issue of the students sharing their outlines on-line with each other, but of the possible IP issues of the students’ outlines of your law school courses existing on-line at all.) Hypothetical: if a student surreptitiously RECORDED a class lecture (easy to do technologically - all those laptops students use in class have decent built-in omni-directional microphones that they could be using) and posted it on-line, that would be an unauthorized use of your classroom “performance” and would very likely raise some serious IP issues.
But a student’s outline that they wrote him/her-self would most likely be considered, as I understand the law, a derivative work of a professor’s class lectures, the casebook, any other readings the student may have done, discussions with classmates, etc., etc., and would most likely NOT be a successful target of any copyright or IP suit.
At a CALI conference a few years ago there was a presentation by a law student (U. Cincinnati, I think) who went beyond the idea of distributing outlines of his classes on-line: he took his class notes, the readings, etc., and created his own podcasts - audio files that he distributed on-line - that consisted of his own lectures/discussions of the material covered in his classes. He was essentially creating his own on-line courses based on what he was learning in class (and he said he had 50,000+ people downloading and, presumedly, listening to these podcasts). BUT, before his first year of law school started, he met with each of his professors and told them of his plans - he wasn’t asking PERMISSION because he already had a good idea of what the law in this area was - and only one of his professors had any qualms about it, and, ultimately, there were no efforts to stop him from what he was doing and by now, I think, he probably has an entire law school education’s worth of podcasts on-line.
Having these outlines on-line just changes the scale of what our students already had available to them: the internet long ago made the exchange of all manner of information and data much easier. And, yes, this is probably why more students these days may seem to anticipate your lines of discussion and questions in class but, again, its really just a change of scale from fifteen years ago when students had to physically exchange floppy discs containing course outlines that they had written or that they had obtained from upperclassmen.
The bottom line, I believe, is that dealing with this situation as an IP issue would be a distraction from dealing with it as one of pedagogy.

I'm curious to who will be the first person on our faculty to say, no, there ARE serious intellectual property issues with students sharing their outlines on-line.

1 comment:

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