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The following are three of the largest online note-taking services that have stirred controversy at universities across the country:


Purdue University professor Mathieu Deflem launched a Web site this fall to fight the onslaught of online note-taking services.


The jobs of note-takers at most of the national Web-based services are similar. But how students are paid differs from service to service.

Becoming a note-taker:

Students can apply online and usually must undergo phone interviews with company administrators.

Note-takers get their own pages where they must post notes on the Web within 24 hours of a class lecture.

How note-takers are paid: shares 40 percent of the sites' advertising revenue with note-takers, which can add up to $1,000 a semester per student. Advertising rates are based on a site's popularity, so the more students visit a class site, the more money a note-taker makes. pays about $300 per course., a Houston-based service, also pays about $300 a course. Note-takers can receive cash incentives based on the quality of their notes.

Source: Mercury News research

Silicon Valley Breaking News

Posted at 8:33 p.m. PST Saturday, December 11, 1999

Colleges attack market in notes

Nobody should profit on lectures, they say

Mercury News Staff Writer

When Berkeley sophomore Celia Chien jots down lecture notes, she's not only keeping up with her class, but earning a few bucks from one of a growing number of online note-taking services that pay college students for their in-class scribing.

But the budding practice of taking lecture notes from the classroom to the Internet is brewing controversy at California's top universities and campuses across the country.

University of California administrators at Berkeley and Los Angeles have sent letters to a number of Internet companies that hire note-takers at those campuses, warning them that the students are violating university policies and copyright laws. Many colleges and professors argue class notes should be legally protected, much like lectures and handouts already are, and educators worry that online notes will encourage students to skip class.

The dispute is only the latest example of how technology has rattled some ivy-clad traditions of higher education. While online registration and fee payment generally are praised for making college life easier, Web-based instruction and library access have radically changed parts of the familiar college experience over the past decade.

Creating a `culture clash'

``Lots of Web sites have been developed to put this commercial casing around higher education,'' said Vicky Phillips, publisher of Virtual University Business Digest and a Vermont-based distance-learning consultant. ``Universities in this country are not used to seeing themselves as commercial entities. . . and it's creating a culture clash.''

At least 10 online note-taking companies have sprouted onto the Web since January, offering thousands of cash-strapped college students the chance to capitalize on their class time.

Chien says typing up her notes for her Introduction to Development Studies class is an easy way to make some extra cash. In her first month posting notes for -- a Santa Clara-based service that employs note-takers at 268 universities across the United States -- she made $217.

``I don't have to ask my parents for money,'' said Chien, who usually lounges on her bed in front of the TV as she types her notes onto the Web from her laptop. ``This fits right into my schedule because I can type up my notes anywhere.''

Professors across the nation fear the free and easy access to their lectures will discourage students from going to class. Lawrence Hinman, a professor of philosophy at the University of California-San Diego, said he often uses the Web to post outlines or syllabuses, but not class notes.

``I'm worried the classroom will become an endangered species,'' said Hinman, director of the university's Values Institute. ``It's putting more and more pressure to move education from the classroom to the Web.''

Executives at the largest note-taking Web sites say their services are intended to help students bolster their own notes or to help them catch up after a sick day. A disclaimer at the bottom of notes posted on, a Menlo Park-based service with notes for more than 3,000 classes, reads: ``The notes are not intended to be used as a substitute for going to lecture. They are intended to be used as a supplement to your own lecture notes.''

Craig Green, co-founder of, said posting class notes on the Web does not infringe on a professor's copyright protection because the postings are a student's ``interpretation'' of a lecture.

``We have guidelines for our note-takers: Our students don't copy anything verbatim,'' Green said. ``They're not videotaping or audio-taping. They're merely putting down the facts they find relevant.''

Murky legal debate

Legal experts agree the copyright debate is a murky one. In 1996, the University of Florida lost a lawsuit against a traditional note-taking company that sold printed copies of notes taken by students. The courts ruled that while lectures and handouts belong to the university or professor, notes belong to students.

``Somewhere along the line, (online services) probably will face a legal challenge,'' said Sheldon Steinbach, who helped fight U of F's battle as general counsel for the American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 U.S. universities. ``Unless it's somehow legally barred, this will continue and probably prosper.''

UC-Berkeley last month sent several cease-and-desist letters to Internet companies, including UCLA sent similar letters earlier this fall and followed up last month with letters to students who were posting their class notes on the Web sites, warning them they could face disciplinary action.

Both campuses have policies that prohibit students from distributing class notes for commercial purposes. However, the universities each have note-taking services that are sanctioned by administrators and sell printed copies to students for $16 to $32 a semester.

In June, the University of California Board of Regents filed a lawsuit against a traditional note-taking company that sells unauthorized notes at five of UC's nine campuses.

``The issue here is not economics: It's control of the classroom,'' said John Sandbrook, an assistant provost at UCLA. ``These companies are using lecture notes as bait to get students to come to their site and look at their banner ads.''

Stephen Oberhauser, a UCLA senior, said administrators have been successful in scaring off student note-takers. But Oberhauser, who received a warning letter after placing an ad in the student paper promoting, said he continues to post notes on the Web.

``It's more about learning entrepreneurship and marketing skills than anything else,'' he said.

Professor's revenge

One angry Purdue University professor this fall launched a Web site to fight online note-taking services after he saw a campus ad for that sought a note-taker for his criminology class.

``I managed to persuade my students not to do it,'' said Mathieu Deflem, an assistant professor of sociology. ``I told them if they sold notes, they would be violating the trust they should have with their professors.''

But not all professors are against the tech-savvy dissemination of class notes. Several Stanford University professors, who this week first learned from a reporter that their lecture notes were online, said they didn't mind the practice.

``If they're not going to class, they'll find other ways to get the notes, anyway,'' said sociology professor Matt Snipp.

Berkeley student Gurminder Gahir said she regularly refers to lecture notes posted on the Web by classmate Chien, but tries to go to class as often as she can. The online notes, she said, give her security.

``If I have a midterm coming up (for another class), I know I can still miss this class and get the notes,'' she said. ``I try to go to class, but if I can't get there, I don't stress about it.''

Contact Anne Martinez at or (408) 920-5445.

  ©1999 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.  
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