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A Teacher Asking Students To Destroy Notes? 931

zwei2stein writes "I found this question with far-reaching implications in the off-topic section of a forum I frequent: 'My economics teacher is forcing us to give up all of our work for the semester. Every page of notes and paper must be turned over to her to be destroyed to prevent future students from copying it. My binder was in my backpack, and she went into my backpack to take it. Is that legal?' Besides the issue with private property invasion, which was the trigger of that post, there is much more important question: Can a teacher ask a student not to retain knowledge? How does IP law relate to teaching and sharing knowledge? Whose property are those notes?"
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A Teacher Asking Students To Destroy Notes?

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  • Assault (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @03:29AM (#26586199)

    Working as a TA one of the MAJOR rules we have is to never, EVER touch a student or their property. Doing so can be classified under assault.

  • Galindo? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vrallis ( 33290 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @03:29AM (#26586203) Homepage

    I'll venture a quick guess... Ms. Galindo, Harlandale High School, San Antonio, TX? (I'm surprised she's still teaching if so, she has to be pushing 70 by now. I graduated in 1996..didn't have her for classes, but knew of her antics far too well.)

    If it isn't her, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that someone else would do the same.

    Besides being anal about exactly how students take notes, she was notorious for making all students turn in their notebooks at the end of the year. She would make sure they were complete (you'd fail the entire class if not) and then make you shove it through an industrial shredder she had brought in just for this task.

    Fun fact: She was teaching there as far back as the 70's...a family friend had her back then. The friend ended up out of school due to medical issues. An hour after waking up from a major surgery that had her gutted like a fish, that teacher was on the phone making sure she was doing her homework.

  • by jsimon12 ( 207119 ) <tzzhc4@yahoo. c o m> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @03:40AM (#26586265) Homepage

    Assuming you are NOT a minor and are in college then they have no right to take your notes. As stated before you wrote them so they are your property. I would at least file a formal complaint even if the professor is tenured and talk to a lawyer.

    On the other hand if you are a minor and this isn't college then your rights (if any) will depend. In this case it really depends on what your parents are willing to do and or back you doing.

  • Re:NO (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @04:37AM (#26586577) Homepage Journal

    Then you're licensing your own work, since the copyright of your own notes falls to you.

    Of course, this is much murkier legal waters than the question the OP asked, which IMHO is pretty straightfoward: since the teacher was teaching them, and no other contract was in place, an implicit personal use license was granted.

  • Re:Notes? (Score:3, Informative)

    by amdpox ( 1308283 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @04:37AM (#26586579)
    RTFS with regards to quotes - the submitter is not the person in question. A google of the quoted text will turn up the original forum post if you want to ask, though.
  • Please forward me detailed information on this event. I happen to maintain an educational resources website [] for teachers, and I'm sure my community would love to hear about your teacher's actions. Frankly, this is ridiculous. The only time in my life I've ever been asked to destroy notes was when they were taken on classified military topics (I'm active duty Navy). I look forward to hearing from you.
  • Re:Notes? (Score:5, Informative)

    by burris ( 122191 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:07AM (#26586701)

    If the copy was lawfully made (i.e. with permission of the Copyright holder) then it belongs to the person who owns the piece of paper. The Copyright holder can't demand that they return it, destroy it, not sell it, etc... It's called the "Doctrine of First Sale." You don't need a license to "use" your own legit copy of anything, with some exceptions for creation of derivate works, public performance to people not in the presence of the physical copy, rental of software, and a few others.

    The teacher can only achieve the desired outcome by entering into an agreement (i.e. a Contract) with the students beforehand that all copies of the notes will be turned at the end of the semester. In other words, there's nothing in Copyright law that gives the Teacher the right demand the students return their notes, even if they copied them from the teacher with his permission.

  • Re:Notes? (Score:5, Informative)

    by burris ( 122191 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:14AM (#26586731)

    Works of authorship become protected by Copyright as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. A Copyright notice is not necessary anymore. However, it is a good idea since it establishes authorship and date of authorship, and reduces the possibility that someone might innocently believe the work is not protected.

  • Keep a copy! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kr0m ( 900780 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:22AM (#26586765) Journal
    Which is why you should always carry on you a trusty recording pen [].
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:43AM (#26586867) Journal

    I concur. If she opened your bag and took something without your permission, that's petty theft. File the charges.


  • by pal3f ( 1094703 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:43AM (#26586869)
    Under U.S. copyright law, she's the creator and you are acting under her direction so your writing is her work, fixed in a tangible form.


    First: Copyright does NOT protect ideas, concepts, processes, etc. This is true regardless of the medium or form in which they're conveyed.

    What copyright does protect, and only protects, is the actual expression. As the Copyright Act states: "[protected works are] original works of authorship in any tangible medium of expression..." [my emphasis].

    If she wrote a textbook on economics, it would be protected. If she wrote a poem about economics, it would be covered by copyright. If she made a movie about economics and composed the soundtrack to it, they would be protected by copyright.

    Second: "Acting under her direction" is meaningless and irrelevant. Unless the student copied her actual notes, her textbook (i.e. one that she wrote, not her copy of a text by someone else), her rap CD, or some other work of authorship, there was no copyright to violate.

  • Re:Notes? (Score:4, Informative)

    by unlametheweak ( 1102159 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:51AM (#26586895)

    It's a paradigm shift that I've witnessed over the years. The RIAA/MPAA certainly have been major influencers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @05:56AM (#26586915)

    To be more accurate:

    I sodomize you for several minutes until I give my "O" face to the class.

    In many places that is called rape, not sexual assault. Just stroking your ass gently on the outside of your clothing could attract sexual assault charges though.

  • by Volvogga ( 867092 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:56AM (#26587197)
    Also, this is quite honestly lazy ass teaching. Reusing 100% of the material year after year...? Hell no. Theories change, textbooks update, and teaching methods improve. Beyond that, as pointed out before, the notes are for your future reference, not just for reference of the class. If you were to write all your notes into the margins of your textbook, would they tell you that you have to burn the book?

    Bring this to the Dean first. If nothing else, just to get his/her reaction. If the Dean thinks this is no big deal and acceptable behavior, get the hell out of there. That place is taking your money and giving you a substandard education as far as I'm concerned.
  • Re:One lazy POS ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) <bhtooefr@bhtooefr. o r g> on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:59AM (#26587213) Homepage Journal

    And then whoever wrote the notes could legally use the DMCA takedown counterclaim provision to get it back up, by law.

  • by shtarker ( 621355 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @07:04AM (#26587247)
    Unless your in Australia. In which case unless they are specifically employing you for research, anything you come up with is entirely your own property.
    I know at least two people who are currently running their own (albeit very small) companies founded on projects they started while doing undergraduate engineering degrees.
  • by Mathinker ( 909784 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @07:54AM (#26587519) Journal

    A reply in the original thread says:

    On another note, this is the same Toxage that has said they are in the working world and it takes them like 40 minutes to get to work... Interesting that we are now back in high school. oO

    Even funnier that the forum ID which posted that is "I pwnd U"....

  • by zolf13 ( 941799 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @08:40AM (#26587713)
    You forgot about "fast" before the date []
  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @09:54AM (#26588099)

    If you wrote the notes with a livescribe pen or something (which is fairly plain looking unless you really pay attention to it), because of the camera, there's a perfect backup copy of the notes in the camera. There are also clipboard/pen combos that do this.

    So even without something as conspicuous as a notebook, you can have a digital copy of the notes without the teacher ever knowing. And lets not get into the old fashioned scanner or photocopier, but that requires conscious effort to make the notes.

    The teacher just sounds like a paranoid nutcase.

  • Re:Notes? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @09:57AM (#26588135)

    Besides that, does that article give you a clue why Europeans are either laughing their heads off or throwing up when Americans claim they live in the "freeest of all countries"?

    Any teacher can make an idiot request in any country. What makes us free is that we can say no the request.

  • by Bender0x7D1 ( 536254 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @11:59AM (#26589121)

    You agreed to a contract. You might not have noticed it, but you did.

    There is always something to the effect of: "By registering for classes, (accepting admittance to, paying my bill, showing up for class, etc.) I agree to follow and abide by all school rules and regulations."

    Trust me, if there was a "but I didn't sign anything agreeing to the rules" defense a student would have used it years ago when they were getting booted out of school for drinking, streaking, urinating in the hall, swearing, cheating or some other stupid offense. Just because you don't remember signing it specifically, doesn't mean you didn't.

  • Re:Notes? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Dzregnon ( 522097 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @12:38PM (#26589507)

    You wrote them? They belong to you.

    Sadly, things are not that simple. I see two main points here, and will address them separately. Also, I'm assuming you're in the US, because the law is decidedly different in other places.
    *Disclaimer* I am not a lawyer (yet), and you should not rely on my thoughts. If you really want to keep the notes, consult an attorney.

    1. IP RIGHTS. Teachers/Professors claiming IP rights in their lecture materials has come up a few times in my recent recollection. The theory is that they own the copyright in the material that they teach and your notes are derivative works. In the US, derivative works belong to the copyright holder, regardless of who did the works. Thus, if you write a song and I do a remix of it, you generally own the remix despite my hard work.

    What makes this interesting are a few twists and turns in copyright law:

    (a) IDEA-EXPRESSION DICHOTOMY. Copyright only extends to expression, and does not include the idea being expressed. Thus any copyright in your teacher's work does not extend to the underlying concepts. As to whether or not your notes are infringing on your teacher's expression of the ideas is a difficult question, and would be answered by a court.

    (b) FIXATION REQUIREMENT. Copyright only applies to things that are fixed. Thus, a concert or dance performance is not copyrightable *unless* they record or otherwise 'fix' the performance. Thus, if your teacher did not fix their work in the form of powerpoint, lecture notes, or something else, it may not be protectable. Again, a question for the court. (Note that your teacher may have copyrightable lecture notes, from which the lecture would be a derivative work, and thus copyrightable.)

    (c) WORK MADE FOR HIRE. If your teacher made any copyrightable work in the course of his/her job, it is possible that any copyright belongs to the educational institution. if that is the case, any rights associated with it are the institution's and thus your teacher has no standing to demand anything with respect to the work.

    (d) LICENSE. It is possible that as a student you have a license (implied or explicit) to any work by your teacher that allows you to take notes, etc. This is highly case specific, so I cannot comfortably comment further

    (e) FAIR USE. Given the educational setting and other circumstances, there is a high likelihood that your notes fall under the fair use exception in copyright. Thus even if your teacher has a full and valid copyright in the lectures, etc., you may be able to take notes nonetheless. (See [] for more information.)

    2. TAKING YOUR NOTES. Taking the notes from you backpack. Regardless of who owns the IP rights in the notes (see #1), your teacher should not be able to go into your backpack to take them, as that is your private property. If the notes ultimately belong to the teacher, you may be ordered to turn them over by a court. Before that, however, I see no obligation to do so.

  • Re:Pay for Knowledge (Score:2, Informative)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @12:57PM (#26589667) Journal

    I forgot to add in my previous post that ALL government school materials are PUBLIC DOMAIN. Just the same as the records of Congress, or the ruling of the courts, or the FCC regulatory meetings are all public domain. A teacher can no more copyright her speeches, than a congressman or legislator can copyright his, because they are all government employees - all servants of the People.

  • by elistan ( 578864 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @01:04PM (#26589741)
    The authority highschools have over students in the US is weird. For example, they can (or feel they can, the case is still pending []) strip naked a 13 year old female student and search her because another student said she gave out 400mg ibuprofen pills. In any other setting, the people doing that would be thrown in jail for many years for sexual assault and be branded as sex-offenders for life. But in this case they said it was a reasonable step for student safety.

    Taking notes out of a personal backpack is nothing compared to this. I doubt anybody with any authority to do anything about it will care in the slightest, unfortunately.
  • Re:Easy solutions (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @01:06PM (#26589761)

    Lancaster High, Lancaster, SC
    Teacher: Mrs. Thompson
    Courses taught: Economics, Government, PoliSci 201

  • by raddan ( 519638 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @01:21PM (#26589893)
    I agree completely. It is very important as an academic to ensure that this instructor's behavior is not tolerated. Your school most likely has a well-defined policy for behavior, and what many people often fail to realize is that this policy cuts both ways. It lays out expected behavior for both students and teachers.

    When I was a college sophomore, I took an introductory geosciences class to fill a gen-ed requirement. Now, most of the people in this class had pinned their hopes on a curve in this class, but I enjoyed the subject material, and in general, I took my studies very seriously.

    However, around the time of the midterm exam, I came down with a horrible stomach bug, and was unable to attend class. I contacted the professor ahead of the exam, and had even made the effort to get a doctor's note. But the professor actually had the gall to tell me "tough luck, kid" in writing. I wrote a letter back to the professor, copying both my advisor and the Dean of Students, citing portions of the Undergraduate Code of Conduct (the "arbitrary and capricious" part was the money quote), and pasting this nice , little "tough luck, kid" part into the letter.

    Within 24 hours the professor had scheduled a time for me to do a make-up exam.

    It may seem like students often get the shit-end of the stick, but keep in mind, these people work for you, even if they don't always act like it.
  • Re:NO (Score:5, Informative)

    by LuYu ( 519260 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @01:24PM (#26589917) Homepage Journal

    Are you implying that the teacher somehow has a copyright on the information taught in the classroom? The teacher was speaking, and since that speech is not "fixed in a tangible medium", the teacher has no copyright at all whatsoever. In fact, this is one of the few cases left where speech is still free of the evil spectre of copyright.

  • Re:Notes? (Score:5, Informative)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @01:30PM (#26589993) Journal

    P.S. Found a reference - []

    "We have held that checkpoint searches are constitutional only if justified by consent or probable cause to search....And our holding today is limited to the type of stops described in this opinion. -[A]ny further detention...must be based on consent or probable cause." i.e. Without probable cause, like noises coming from the trunk, the homeland security checkpoints that are randomly placed in certain states may NOT search your car.

    Here's a useful resource: []

  • Re:Easy solutions (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2009 @02:36PM (#26590585)

    I trust the mob will use this information wisely, and ensure that this is, in fact, the right teacher: []

    email [mailto]:

    Phone number: 803-283-2001

  • by EconomyGuy ( 179008 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @03:09PM (#26590887) Homepage

    Typo on the apostrophe... shouldn't be there at all.

    To answer your question, CUNY is a part of the New York State government... though it appears there is some funky overlay with the City of New York. But, then again, NYC is also a part of the New York State government, so I imagine that all works out in the wash. Never forget that in the United States all local political units (county, city, water board, school board, etc) are considered to be sub-divisions of the state government.

    As for West Point, I'm going to hide behind Wikipedia [] and say that West Point is not a University or a College, but is, in fact, a Service Academy :) But yes, West Point is an organ of the federal government and thus the creative works of its employees would not be eligible for copyright.

  • Re:NO (Score:3, Informative)

    by DustyShadow ( 691635 ) on Saturday January 24, 2009 @06:07PM (#26592751) Homepage
    Even so, unless the notes copy verbatim what the professor is saying (which I would think is quite rare), the professor doesn't own the copyright to them because they are written in the student's own words. Giving the professor copyright protection in it would essentially be giving the professor ownership of the idea that the lecture is based on. Ideas are not protected by copyright law.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.