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UNC system looks into copyright issues from Course Hero site

UNC system looks into copyright violations

Course Hero, a website that makes study documents from nationwide universities available online, is designed to make studying an easier process for students.

But for University administrators and professors alike, the website is making it more difficult to oversee intellectual property.

“Finding your work in a place you didn’t expect it, where you didn’t put it up, is disconcerting,” said McKay Coble, chairwoman of the Faculty Council.

While administrators do not want to prohibit the use of Course Hero — with content including lecture notes, readings and other types of documents — they are seeking ways to give professors more control over their content on the website.

More than 6.5 million documents are currently on the site, according to Course Hero. The website is free for a limited number of documents, but an upgraded membership costs between $6.95 and $39.95 per month, depending on the length of the subscription.

The site contains about 350 links to UNC-Chapel Hill content ranging from specific subjects to entire departments.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the site is required to remove content when the owners of the material request that it be taken down.

Course Hero’s policy requires professors to fill out a form to have individual items removed — a process that can be lengthy and burdensome, officials said.

“It’s a challenge for faculty to spend the extra time,” said Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost.

Carney said the University has not needed to take legal action against the site because it eventually responds to removal requests.

Coble said she is planning to meet with Chancellor Holden Thorp with the goal of creating a task force to handle the website.

She said she hopes a task force could create a blanket policy that would allow professors to ask Course Hero not to use their content.

“It’s sort of like a no-call provision,” Carney said.

Carney said he does not want to prevent professors from having the option of having their course on the website, but wants to make the removal process easier for professors.

Despite the concerns, the University has not yet implemented a blanket policy for the site.

Carney said he thought the University committee on copyright would be the natural group to look at the issue.

“I’d like to see some action, to be honest,” he said.

But that committee has been on hiatus for several months, said Sarah Michalak, associate provost for University libraries, because several members have been on leave.

Other universities have confronted difficulties in crafting a response to Course Hero, a copyright issue that is not unique to UNC.

Jane Fernandes, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNC-Asheville, said in an e-mail that university administrators looked into a policy prohibiting all course materials from UNC-A from being displayed on Course Hero.

“That inquiry indicated that such an effort would prove ineffective and lacked legal basis,” she said.

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Fernandes said she spoke with UNC-CH officials regarding Course Hero at a meeting with chief academic officers from UNC campuses in February 2010.

So far, Fernandes said UNC-A has only been able to remove its logo from Course Hero altogether.

The school has not had the same success with its intellectual property.

“Students posting course materials on the Course Hero website may not have considered the personal and professional investment faculty make in the development of their teaching materials or the lifetime they’ve invested in pulling their course materials together,” she said.

Coble said she is open to the idea of further research to learn the extent of the issue and to see if other sites similar to Course Hero exist.

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