DECEMBER 9, 2013


On behalf of President Powers, Executive Vice President and Provost Gregory Fenves addressed the following questions from Blinda McClelland (lecturer, biology): Students are downloading content from Blackboard (a restricted site accessible only to registered students) and uploading these files to public websites such as "CourseHero" which then sells access to the information for a profit. (A search for "University of Texas" on the CourseHero website yields 80,900 files including quizzes, home works, exams, power points, etc.) Is the university willing and prepared to take proactive steps to counteract this practice, which is, at the very least, a clear violation of the honor code and at worst the theft of intellectual property?

Provost Fenves said that he had worked with Vice President for Legal Affairs Patricia Ohlendorf on these issues and noted two important aspects: 1) Individual faculty members own the copyright materials for their courses, including syllabi, reading lists, notes, flash cards, etc. He further clarified that the “University does not assert ownership or copyright of any materials prepared for a class.” 2) Sites like CourseHero are file sharing sites and are protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows “file sharing services to share files without any liability for copyright infringement, unless the owner of the copyrighted material requests the file sharing site to take it down.” He said that the University could not act on a faculty member’s behalf because it does not own the copyright. However, the owner of the material may request that the copyrighted material be taken down and the site must comply or be liable for damages. To help the copyright holder, Vice President Ohlendorf’s office prepared a template that outlines the specific procedures to request material being taken down.

Provost Fenves said that he is also working with the Office of the Dean of Students about a campaign to educate students about the consequences of transmitting copyrighted materials with file sharing sites, and to inform students that if they do this, it would be in violation of institutional rules and the University’s honor code and could lead to an investigation conducted by the Student Judicial Services.

Provost Fenves suggested faculty members help educate their students of the copyright law by putting notices in their syllabus and by making a point to mention it in class. He felt that if enough faculty members gave notice to CourseHero and similar sites, they may decide they would no longer want to receive uploaded materials from The University of Texas at Austin.

Provost Fenves then answered the question from Jon Olson (professor, petroleum and geosystems engineering) “In addition to the content already listed in the question above, I found several documents with student names and EID’s. It seems like that might be a violation of FERPA rules?” Provost Fenves said that names and EIDs of students are not protected by FERPA unless the student has requested that the information not be made public. He pointed out students’ names and EIDs appear in the UT directory.

Blinda McClelland thanked Provost Fenves for his answers and suggestions and said that she supported an education campaign directed toward the students.

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