January 24, 2013

Students that post my notes online – beware…

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

Yes, even in my geoscience courses, I spend time talking about copyright, intellectual property, and why we use images with a creative commons license for our class multimedia projects.  A couple of years ago, I found one of my syllabi on a website where students can upload their course notes and files – and get paid for their upload.  I was furious that a student “sold” my syllabus and made money off of it!  For that reason, I now include a copyright statement in my syllabus, and I now tell students that they better not dare (OK, maybe not in these words) sell my syllabus or post it online at any of these websites that post college course materials:

Copyright ©2012 Dr. Laura A. Guertin.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified or distributed, in whole or in part, without the express prior written permission of the copyright holder. For permission, contact [email protected]

What this means… My lectures and course materials, including presentations, tests, assignments, outlines, and similar materials, are protected by copyright. You may take notes and make copies of course materials for your own use. You may not and may not allow others to reproduce or distribute lecture notes and course materials (including this syllabus) publicly whether or not a fee is charged without my express written consent. Similarly, you own copyright in any papers you write or projects you complete for this course. You will be notified ahead of time if you will be required to share the results of your work with a public audience (such as dissemination through a public VoiceThread, online posting of your podcast, etc.).

So zoom forward to this past weekend.  I was searching online for a good website on Earth system science that I could include in some materials for a group of middle school teachers I work with.  I did a search for “Earth system science,” and a YouTube video popped up on the Google search page.  It was a thumbnail of a video, where the template was the same template I use when I give my overview of Earth system science lecture to my students.  At first, I thought, “hey, that’s cool – someone uses the same template I do!”  But when I clicked on the video, I discovered that the “video” was a slideshow of the PowerPoint that I show in class!  (and no, I did not upload to YouTube)

Now I do not distribute notes or PowerPoint presentations to students (I don’t use many PowerPoints to begin with).  The only time I’ve circulated my notes are to students that have missed class because of a medical illness or emergency – this makes me even more frustrated that someone back in 2009 took advantage of my kindness and posted my notes online at SlideServe, which then got turned into a YouTube video on SlideShare’s YouTube channel (I did some investigating!).

My frustration caused me to jump into immediate action.  I emailed SlideShare to “respectfully request” that they remove MY PowerPoint that I created and did not give permission to appear on their site.  I also filled out the form online at YouTube to request the video be taken down of my PowerPoint.  I was extremely pleased that in 24 hours, SlideShare emailed me to say my PowerPoint had been removed, and I heard from YouTube in two days that my video was no longer in their website.  Victory!

Did I overreact?  Sure, my PowerPoint had over 11,000 hits on SlideShare – maybe someone learned something from it.  But it was the principle that someone used my material, without my permission, in a way that I had not intended.

But now I have learned I have to let it go.  I did a quick internet search for “Guertin syllabus,” and it is crazy how many websites have copies of my syllabi in their databases – CourseHero, StudyBlue, etc.  I guess victory is not mine after all…