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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2015

Q&A Forum

J.B. from Victoria writes:

I recently came across the web site of According to the home page, OneClass pays students with gift cards when they up­load notes and tests to the site. I signed up for a free account and searched for my name. I discovered several items from one of my courses on the site, including some lecture notes taken by a student that are full of errors and a handout I prepared and distributed in class. I’m very disturbed by this because I didn’t give permission for this material to be posted for the commercial benefit of this company. Doesn’t this infringe my copyright? Do I have the right to ask that the material be taken down from the site?

David Robinson, CAUT executive director, answers:

Content aggregators such as OneClass and Course Hero are companies whose business consists largely of selling university and college students material related to specific courses. Both companies upload and sell documents without the permission of, or payment to, the academics responsible for the original creation of the material. In some circumstances, as J.B. suggests, there could be a case made for copyright infringement.

If a student posts a handout, video, or lab manual prepared by you, and if OneClass offers it for sale without your permission, this may be infringing copyright. A verbatim transcript of your lecture may also constitute unauthorized reproduction. But notes prepared by a student that summarize your lecture are not likely to infringe copyright.

However, the matter is not so clear cut as there is a possibility that claims of copyright infringement may still be defeated by fair dealing. Fair dealing is a legal right that allows a work to be reproduced without permission or payment in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, fair dealing aside, the posting of transcripts of lectures, test, handouts, exams, slides, and lab manuals do raise legitimate copyright concerns.

I would advise J.B. to write to OneClass requesting that the handout be taken down from the web site. J.B. should also contact his/her academic staff association so that other members may be informed of the existence of these course content aggregators.

The class notes that J.B. says were prepared by a student probably do not violate copyright, but raise other issues, including concerns about self-censorship. While student notes that misquote or misrepresent the content of a lecture are not new, the knowledge that such errors could be posted widely on a public web site may have a chilling effect on classroom speech and academic freedom.

What we ultimately need to help deal with these issues are strong institutional policies and collective agreement language that prevent students from recording and sharing course materials for any purpose other than personal use.

Academic Advisor offers advice about your rights at work. To send in a question, write to Please include a daytime telephone number.