A recent controversy at Yale University has brought Versity.com — an Internet company that provides lecture notes for courses at about 150 colleges and universities nationwide — to the forefront of a continuing debate over professors' intellectual property rights.
Versity.com pays students for their lecture notes and then makes the notes available online. At most schools, however, the company does not seek the permission of professors from whose courses material is posted.
Versity.com pulled all notes from courses at Yale last month, several days after the university demanded that it do so. "Yale sent Versity.com a cease and desist order objecting to what they were doing," according to a statement by Yale Assistant Director for Institutional Issues Thomas Violante. "They complied and took down the Yale notes. We said we will meet with them at a later date."
Versity.com manager of campus relations Jennifer Keesler explained the company's reason for pulling the material from the site. "We removed the notes because we respect the students, faculty and administration at Yale," she said. "Beyond that, we hope this leads to us learning more about their needs."
Though the Website allows users to get notes for about 7,000 classes, it does not offer notes from any Princeton courses.
According to Keesler, the company does not play a role on the Princeton campus because of a lack of student interest. Versity.com did not receive the "overwhelming student demand for notes" from Princeton undergraduates that it had from students at other schools, she said.
Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan said she believes this lack of demand is the result of specific University regulations that preclude the sale of lecture notes. "The University has a policy that long predated Versity.com," she said.
This policy appears in "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" and states, "Students may not engage in the publication or sale of abstracts or transcriptions of the lectures or required reading in any course of instruction in the University."
When a Versity.com recruitment advertisement appeared in The Daily Princetonian this fall, the administration sent a campus-wide e-mail and placed an advertisement in the 'Prince' to remind students of the University policy, Deignan noted.
"We felt it was incumbent on us to go out there and to make people aware of the fact that this was a longstanding policy of the University," she said.
Deignan said there had not been any problems with the policy, though one student who had volunteered to work for Versity.com approached her as soon as the administration's e-mail and ad were released. The student said he would not pursue the job and did not receive any disciplinary punishment.
While Yale chose to deal directly with the company, Deignan said Princeton has handled the Versity.com situation differently than other schools. "I think Princeton's approach has been to deal with our own community rather than to try and enter into some external action against Versity.com," she said.
University General Counsel Howard Ende said he believed professors' intellectual property claims were "viable," but not something considered by the University. "It's not one we needed to look at since we felt it was already addressed by our policies," he noted.