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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Textbook publisher sues note-taking service for copyright infringement

Faulkner Press, a textbook publisher, on April 1 filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Class Notes (d/b/a Einstein's Notes), a student note-taking service at the University of Florida. Faulkner primarily publishes textbooks written by UF professors for use in UF classes. The suit alleges that Einstein's Notes illegally copied material from Faulkner Press publications, as well as a UF professor's web site and lectures. The professor is not a plaintiff but says he supports the suit. The professor is paid by Faulkner for sales of the textbook; Faulker also publishes a lecture guide for the class, for which the professor is not paid but payment is made to the department.

For details, see the coverage in the Gainesville Sun or the Independent Florida Alligator. For student responses to the suit, see this editorial cartoon and these letters to the editor (1 and 2), as well as this blog post by the president of UF's Free Culture chapter. Faulker has created its own web site about the suit, which links to the original complaint and other documents.

These note-taking services have been a recurring point of soreness for UF faculty; see e.g. this article from 2005 (and my op-ed response, at the time as a student). The stories also note an unsuccessful suit from 1996 against a similar service.

Comment. My favorite take on this, and the angle relevant to OA, is the student editorial cartoon, which points to the tension between the advancement of learning (supposedly a core value of academia) and academics' management of their own copyright, and the incentives toward profit and control therein.

Disclosure: As it happens, I once registered for this particular professor's class and bought the textbook in question, published by Faulkner. I dropped the class and returned the textbook when I discovered that the textbook, which is only available in electronic format, only works on Windows and Mac (I use Linux). I was also upset at the cost of the textbook ($80 or so for a CD in a box) and the software-registration system which Faulkner uses to prevent resale after the semester ends. Update. See the comments by David Wiley (1 and 2).

The story was also picked up by the Chronicle's Wired Campus blog, Wired's Threat Level blog, and Boing Boing, among others. Update. According to the Independent Florida Alligator, the note-taking company hasn't yet responded to the lawsuit, but is temporarily stopping its service for the class in question. The textbook publisher also announced it will make the class' lecture notes available free online beginning in the summer, and will start posting audio lectures immediately.