Davis Faculty Association

AB 1773 Legislation Update

by Charles Nash

The following is a brief update regarding the status of AB 1773, legislation which the UC and CSU Faculty Associations are co-sponsoring. The bill attempts to delineate the role played by the faculty in controlling the subsequent use of original material presented in their lectures, and in particular preventing the posting of class notes on off-campus commercial web sites. This issue strikes home because Versity.com lists some 40 UCD courses in their recent ad in the California Aggie. In at least several cases that we know of, the faculty members whose courses have been so posted on the Web did not know of it and, furthermore, they object to such posting. The notes are inaccurate and potentially damaging to the faculty members’ reputations.

The Faculty Associations and the Administrations of UC and CSU have very different views about the content—and indeed the very existence of such legislation. The FAs believe that case law has established that Section 980 of the California Civil Code gives faculty members an exclusive ownership of original material presented in their lectures. The University Administrations have adamantly opposed the inclusion of any language in the proposed legislation that would give the faculty such ownership either overtly or by implication. In testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee the Chair of the UC Systemwide Academic Council opposed the very existence of legislation dealing with disposition of lecture materials, arguing that this subject would better be dealt with via “shared governance.”

The members of the Council of UC Faculty Associations believe otherwise. The 1969 California Appellate Court decision which confirmed that a faculty member could (and did successfully) sue a commercial note-taking firm for damages arising from the sale of unauthorized course notes contains the caveat: “We are…convinced that in the absence of (contrary) evidence the teacher, rather than university, owns the common-law copyright to his lectures.” We see a real possibility that “shared governance,” which often implies that each side gives a little, could result in “contrary evidence” which would afford the university intellectual property rights which we believe it does not currently have.

The faculty ownership of classroom utterances has been clearly recognized in both English and American law since Abernethy v. Hutchinson in 1825, and we have no wish to allow that situation to change so early in the 21st century. The UC and CSU Faculty Associations commissioned an independent intellectual property practitioner to prepare a White Paper on the current status of State and Federal Copyright laws as they pertain to classroom lectures. The interested reader can find this document on the DFA website on the Current Activities page. Copies of it have also been sent to all the members of the new UC Standing Committee on Copyright, which had its first meeting on May 3.

The fate of our proposed legislation (AB 1773) is by no means certain. Indeed, the text has been changing virtually on a daily basis in an attempt by ourselves and the bill’s author, Assemblymember Gloria Romero (herself a CSU Professor of Psychology), to find compromise language that would induce UC and CSU to rescind their present formal opposition to the bill in question. Whether it succeeds or fails, our hope is that the introduction of AB 1773 may have raised the consciousness and attracted the interest of enough faculty members across the system to insure that any policies stemming from “shared governance” will not jeopardize the existing rights of the faculties in California’s public post-secondary institutions.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 29th, 2000 at 2:41 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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