Davis Faculty Association

DFA Response to Dateline article re. AB 1773

Early in the quarter, the DFA sent a press release regarding AB 1773, a new bill co-sponsored by the Council of UC Faculty Associations which makes it illegal to distribute or publish with a commercial intent any unauthorized, contemporaneous recording in any medium of a presentation in any California classroom. Subsequently, Dateline published an article on this issue that contained some factual or interpretive errors. We sent a letter to the Editor in an attempt to correct the misperceptions that the article created. To date, Dateline has not published our letter. Since the quarter is nearing an end, we feel compelled now to publish a somewhat amended version of the letter so that all Senate faculty will know the true story about AB 1773. We provide it for you below:

TO: The Editor of Dateline

Sir: Both fairness and accuracy require that the recent front page article headlined “UC Davis keeps lecture notes off the Internet” not go unremarked. The University of California had nothing to do with the introduction of the legislation in question (AB 1773, Romero). In fact, spokesmen from UC and CSU as well as the Chair of the Academic Council of the systemwide UC Academic Senate testified against the bill at its first legislative hearing. The bill was co-sponsored by two organizations: the Council of UC Faculty Associations (to which the Davis Faculty Association belongs) and CSU’s California Faculty Association. The bill was amended several times as it evolved, with the result that the Universities no longer opposed it. In brief, AB 1773 makes it illegal to distribute or publish with a commercial intent any unauthorized, contemporaneous recording in any medium of a presentation in any California classroom. It also empowers the Attorney General, District Attorneys or other similar public officials to pursue violators of the statute.

For more than 30 years it has been known that, under California law, academic institutions are almost powerless to intervene when a determined note-taking entrepreneur invades a campus. That is because according to the Legislative Counsel’s digest of AB 1773: “Existing case law provides that without evidence to the contrary, a teacher, rather than the institution for which he or she teaches, owns the common law copyright to his or her lectures.” The bill itself also states: “Nothing in this chapter is intended to change existing law as it pertains to the ownership of academic presentations.” What this means in practice is that before AB 1773 was enacted, individual professors had to initiate legal action to halt the misappropriation of their lecture materials on a case-by-case basis at personal expense. Now they can ask the State to do it for them.

It is entirely correct that administrative representatives from UCDavis talked with versity.com “regarding possible acceptable ways the latter might do business on campus.” As a result of those conversations the firm actually pulled all the UC Davis course notes down off of their Website in the last week of the winter quarter. What the Dateline article failed to mention, however, is that in the spring quarter they were back up again.

In mid-May, when the Davis Faculty Association got into the act, versity.com was posting notes for more than 200 courses on six UC campuses, including 43 from UC Davis. With the financial support of the Davis Faculty Association and the assistance of a private practice attorney who specializes in intellectual property matters, a Davis faculty member whose notes were mounted on the versity.com website threatened legal action in the Yolo County Superior Court if those notes were not removed immediately. The threat cited the “existing case law” mentioned above. The offending notes came down within 24 hours and as a fringe benefit no further notes were posted for any UCDavis courses for the rest of the quarter. During the spring quarter versity.com merged with the San Diego-based firm, “college club.com.” During the summer the latter evidently overreached itself, and declared bankruptcy.

All of this works to explain why, in the words of the Dateline article: “The company eventually pulled UC Davis notes from its site.” The DFA is planning a winter forum to promote campus discussion and to further explain faculty rights on copyright issues.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 19th, 2000 at 2:54 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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