April 5, 2008
The day after the Alligator covered the issue they were kind enough to include the short version of a response from one of our officers, Patrick Flanagan. Here is the longer version of the opinion, which also touches on the substantial problems that Faulkner material has caused due to their restrictive programming:
Faulkner Press is suing Einstein’s Notes for copying class notes without the professor’s permission. Wait, what? I thought college was about passing on knowledge. I guess Faulkner Press disagrees.
Einstein’s Notes service is one that many of my friends and peers value greatly. They value it enough that they’re willing to spend $20 on a notes packet every time their class has a test. The note takers are paid well for their time, and the note buyers are satisfied with the product they receive. It’s a nice example of the free market, but Faulkner Press is upset that
“their” intellectual property is being misused.
This falls so neatly into the “Fair Use” clause of U.S. copyright law: “the fair use of a copyrighted work… for purposes such as… teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use) [and] scholarship… is not an infringement of copyright.” Furthermore, “ideas, … concepts, principles” cannot be copyrighted. And to nail the lid on the coffin, Einstein’s Notes doesn’t just blindly redistribute the source material verbatim; they offer a new product: a summary of the professor’s lecture, and a compilation of useful material for the class. They cite their sources, which is all that is required when using these materials for their notes. Case closed.
I’m actually not surprised that it’s Faulkner Press who is bringing this lawsuit. If you’ve ever used a Faulkner Press digital textbook, you know what I’m talking about. They’re obscenely overpriced, poorly programmed, and restrictive enough to be called suffocating. Their software won’t even let you select text, for fear that you’ll distribute it to the masses. Never mind that you’re a student, trying to write a 10-page philosophy paper, and you have to hand type block quotes from Socrates instead of just copy-pasting.
U.S. copyright law is far from perfect (see the Digital Millennium Copyright Act). The fair use clause, however, is one of those laws where the government got something right. If Class Notes (the parent company of Einstein’s Notes) loses this case, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at intellectual property legislation and fix it once and for all.
This is the digital millennium, and information is literally in the air. The free flow of information is absolutely critical to a democratic society. The University of Florida is a place of learning. Let’s not suffocate ourselves by depriving us of knowledge.