This question is basically just curiosity, no actual dispute. But a few years ago I scanned and uploaded http://www.forkosh.com/u715.html to my site, personally claiming copyright (see notice on that page) just so somebody would be asserting copyright. Then I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. But a few months ago, I coincidentally received two unrelated emails from fellow former (but >>much<< more recent:) students, both thanking me for putting my detailed notes online. That prompted me to google the teacher, and surprisingly finding him still at CCNY.

So I emailed him, forwarding both emails I'd received, and pointing him to my online notes in case they were actually still of any use. That started a five-or-six email exchange, during which I mentioned my copyright statement, explaining why I'd claimed it, and offering to transfer it to him, since I considered it his material, with me just the "scribe". But he never mentioned it, one way or the other, so I just left the copyright statement as-is.

But my curious question -- suppose there were a dispute. Who prevails, and why?

  • By 'copyright statement' are you talking about the header/footer that appears on many websites such as 'Copyright (c) Year .... Site Author'? From what you describe, you have the copyright on the web site, and you are using the class notes themselves under a license.
    – Brandin
    Jun 19 '18 at 11:40
  • @Brandin Well, I'm >>asking<< about the class note material itself. And the copyright notice on that page was >>intended<< to refer to the notes (with my homepage containing a statement intending to assert copyright to the site). If that u715 copyright statement refers to the site and not to the notes, then that's just my mistake, suggesting another question -- how do I write a short copyright statement referring to the notes? Again, in any case, the question refers to a potential student/teacher dispute over the notes. Clearly, the teacher has no claim to my site (at least I don't think so). Jun 19 '18 at 12:05
  • If you did not write the notes, then you do not have any copyright claim on them. Whoever wrote the notes (the teacher, presumably) has a copyright claim on them and may or may not dictate some kind of notice. For example the teacher could say "you may republish my notes, but only if you link to my faculty page." If you refuse to do that and there is a dispute, you are infringing copyright because you are copying and redistributing his work without a license.
    – Brandin
    Jun 19 '18 at 13:02
  • @Brandin I certainly wrote the notes, but based on what the teacher wrote on the blackboard, plus additional explanatory material he talked about but didn't write down. Of course, I suppose he has his own written notes somewhere, but I never saw them, and he didn't refer to anything during class while writing on the blackboard. During class, I vigorously wrote down, in more-or-less scribbling, everything he said and wrote. At home, I laboriously rewrote (and occasionally reorganized) my class scribbles, maybe some 2-3 hours at home for every class hour, resulting in my scanned online notes. Jun 19 '18 at 13:26
  • @Brandin I should also mention that my question's intended to be as generic as possible, not about my particular situation any more than necessary. That is, I realize that particular fact patterns are crucial to legal interpretations of governing law, but my curiosity's about the general idea of "class notes", at least to the extent that any such general legal idea about that concept is possible. Perhaps, in other words, where's the dividing line? -- under what circumstances do class notes copyrights belong to the student, and under what circumstances to the teacher? Jun 19 '18 at 13:34

The copyright owner is whoever first put the material in fixed form. It is most likely that that is the note-taker (you).

It is possible (and highly unlikely) that the lecturer read (had memorized) a prepared script and you copied that script mechanically, and if that were the case, he would hold copyright and you infringed by making a copy. Typically, a note-taker follows the logic of a lecture and expresses those ideas in his own words (the notes do not match a plausible verbatim class lecture). Since expression is protected and ideas are not, that makes it most likely that you would prevail in a suit. The equations are almost certainly not protected.

  • Thanks. That makes perfect sense, now that you elaborate the explanation. Perfect legal sense, that is, although the broadly construed "expression is protected and ideas are not" offends my sensibilities to some extent. On the one hand, when writing a novel, the idea "boy meets, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back", certainly wouldn't be a "protected idea". On the other hand, while you're 100% right that the class notes copyright is mine, given the circumstances of their creation, the unique originality of the material's presentation by the teacher isn't getting its just due. Jun 19 '18 at 17:48
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    @JohnForkosh to the extent that the teacher's lecture is based on his own fixed form, he owns copyright in that and your work is a derived work. Since his own notes are presumably unpublished, however, it would be difficult for anyone to assert his copyright without his cooperation.
    – phoog
    Jun 19 '18 at 20:59
  • @phoog Thanks for the additional elaboration, easing my sensibilities by giving the material's ultimate originator some legal standing vis-a-vis copyright , interpreting my notes as a "derived work" of his prior "fixed form" rubric (assuming it exists, which I'm not 100% sure about, but would bet it does). Jun 20 '18 at 7:34
  • @JohnForkosh An ideal teacher would explain an idea (e.g. how to solve a certain problem) so that everyone understands. Suppose you questioned the teacher thoroughly until you completely understood how to solve this problem, and suppose you wrote down detailed notes in your own words how to solve it, perhaps copying uncopyrightable facts such as equations, etc. You own the copyright to that completely, even if there's no way you could have come to that understanding without the teacher's help. "Just due" is not relevant here. You can list the teacher in your acknowledgements if you choose.
    – Brandin
    Jun 20 '18 at 8:32
  • @Brandin (and at-user6726,phoog) maybe "not relevant here", but then you're missing my point about sensibilities. By (very loose) analogy, suppose you spent years and years and years researching all the legends, maps, etc regarding the fabled lost Treasure of the Sierra Madre and finally located it. But I overheard you, ran over to it, and took the entire treasure for myself. So you approach me and ask for your fair share, having done all the real work yourself. What do I say?... "Copyright? We don't need no stinkin' copyright" (non-US?, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinking_badges :) Jun 20 '18 at 14:03

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