Education Interventions (Free Education Now!)

Page 2 of the Free Education Now! campaign, 1999-2000.

This page discusses interventions against notes businesses from Educational, Legal, and Technological viewpoints.

Our Priority: Defending Education!

There are very many ways in which students and educators can defend their rights to education (see also my paper on the educational issues). Among the strategies are:
  • Sensitize students and teachers to the many problematic issues involved. Discuss and listen to opinions and concerns!
  • Send emails to commercial notes companies to have your course sites removed and to show that you don't approve. Although not directly consequential, this is important!
  • Set up a website and/or explore other avenues to distribute news, opinions, and awareness about the educational troubles associated with online notes.
  • Teachers can specify in their syllabus what their concerns are about these notes companies and/or emphasize that they consider selling notes a form of cheating.
  • Contact appropriate authorities in your university or college and have them work out a policy that protects student-teacher relations, copyright lectures, conceive of selling notes as cheating, and/or otherwise protect the dignity of our education.
  • Appeal to universities to launch lawsuits against the companies and/or appeal to politicians and legislators to push for explicit laws on the matter..

UNIVERSITY POLICIES AGAINST NOTES COMPANIES: At present, several universities have policies that prohibit the sale of lecture notes (based on academic honesty requirements or intellectual property rights). Among the universities with policies against the sale and/or unauthorized sale of notes are presently: UCLA, UC-Berkeley (see also Dean's statement), UC-Davis (see the University of California copyright policy), Yale University, Princeton University, Harvard University, Iowa State University (section 4.2.20), Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, Rice University, and University of Nebraska. In March 2000, Boston University also sent cease-and-desist letters to notes companies. And in the same month, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania were developing policies. Some university policies allow notes companies as long as they receive instructors' permission (e.g., at the University of Vermont and at Kansas State University). See also the response in the report of the Commercial Notetaking Task Force (May 2000) at University of Michigan, which refers to the Free Education Now! campaign.

Among the most helpful policies are those based on academic honesty and commercial relations with students and faculty because they tend to ban the notes companies altogether. Such policies exist at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. The Dean of Yale University, for instance, wisely condemned the notes companies as "a deeply troubling commercial intrusion into our classrooms, an improper exploitation of the intellectual property of the instructors, and in many instances a misrepresentation of courses" (see online Dean's statement).

My preference in fighting the commercial invasion of notes companies is, first of all, to sensitize students to the educational issues involved. For teaching always involves a participation of students. Second, we should appeal to university administrators to develop policies based on academic honesty that ban the sale of lecture notes.

The Law: An Instrument, No Argument

I personally feel that the legality of online course notes has no bearing on their educational merits and problems. Something that is lawful is not necessarily appropriate. The law, therefore, can be no argument in this debate. However, the law can provide a useful and rather powerful form of protection to issues that move us in terms of rights and justice, also in educational matters. Therefore, while never an argument, the law can be an instument to protect student-teacher rights and duties. This is the reason why I wrote a paper on the legalities involved with online notes companies.

Relatedly, universities can develop and have developed policies that prohibit the selling of notes for profit. These policies are typically justified as a matter of academic honesty, which is in my view the best way to tackle the problem. Several universities have in this way already been successful in halting the invasion from commercial notes companies. (See related syllabus from Jonathan Alger, University of Michigan)..


A bill to ban the ununauthorized distribution of lecture notes has passed in the legislative bodies of the State of California and, on September 22, 2000, Governor Davis signed the bill into law, thus amending the State Education Code to prohibit unauthorized posting of class lecture notes on commercial websites. The law becomes effective January 1, 2001.
The bill was entered by assembly member Gloria Romero and others in order to accord "exclusive ownership" to faculty members for their "presentation[s]... in a classroom, laboratory, library, studio, or any other place of instruction." Here you can read the entire history of this bill, its amendments, and the assembly and senate discussion: AB 1773.

The Use and Abuse of Techno-Education

There are very many businesses on the internet these days that have some relationship with education. Some of these developments are useful, for instance when they are an explicit part of education and/or offered by students and teachers. But other sites are very puzzling and appear to offer the means to intrude into the world of responsible education.

Informative Techno-Education Sites: The Virtual University - This site ofers online addresses of various technological tools and stuff in relation to education, usually online distance learning and virtual universities. Other examples are:, Free Education Online. See also this reading list: Innovations in Higher Education. (Floyd M. Hammack, NYU). And see these online papers by David Noble (related Chronicle article).

Scary Stuff

The Heller Reports - This scary site offers a variety of techno-tools to invade the education market. For instance, the Heller Report on Educational Technology Markets provides news and analysis on new technologies in education, and Internet Strategies for Education Markets focuses on the education market for Internet and online services. Here is more supposed partner:

FuturePages - An internet company that taps the college media for businesses, specifically targeting college newspapers, collegiate websites, college magazines, campus radio, direct mail and e-mail, sports events, on-campus postering or flyering, and more. The company claims to provide "effective plans to penetrate and influence the college market." uses this company's CampaignTracker program to research and place ads in the college media.

Campus Pipeline - An online provider of university intranets and student services over the internet, such as email, online course registration, and classroom chat sessions, all with knowledge of many of the student's characteristics and preferences, useful for marketing purposes (article).

ESocrates - yet another education technology site. There should be many more of these by now, especially since the notes companies diversified and changed their services.

SetforStudy - An Australian-based company that hasn't caught on yet that this is all not profitable...

The Trappings of Technology

Some websites are designed to cheat and others to catch cheaters, equivalent to fighting fire with fire... There are the summaries-providing sites, such as cliff notes and sparknotes. Among the most dubious of college-related sites are the paper-mills, such as,,,,,, essaycrawler,, paperstoreenterprises, and (which also includes tricks on how to cheat on an exam...). Here are some more:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

For possibly even more of such sites, see this monster site. And then there is the so-called "opposition" of sites designed to catch cheaters, such as and, as if that would be the solution (see article)!

Online Cheating

Plagiarism in Colleges in USA - Helpful notes by Ronald B. Standler. More papers on cybercrime and related issues at Dr. Standler's website.

Here are some discussions of paper mills. Consult this Electronic Plagiarism Seminar. Also, the Combating Cybercheating: Resources for Teachers, from El Paso Community College, contains many sites about paper mills. See also Statement by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd.

CollegeStores Online

There are, alas, more things between heaven and earth.... such as the so-called college bookstores online, which are not collegestores at all, as they are not affiliated with any college. Recently, the National Association of College Stores filed a lawsuit against online bookseller on claims of false advertising (see this related article from the Cavalier Daily). There are now very many other college-related companies that offer a bunch of scary stuff, such as Here is an article of various college market sites. Also to be considered is Contentville, which sells doctoral dissertations even when they are copyrighted by authors (see this article).


More and more financiers are exploring ways to use the internet for profit by offering online courses. There is the infamous case of Michael Saylor, but others are more sneaky and manage to team up with respected universities, whose business schools have apparently happily agreed to sell out. Examples include and Caliber Learning Network, Inc. You can read this astute Commentary on Cyber-U (Michele Tolela Myers in the Washington Post). See also this paper by David Noble on diploma mills, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, on the commercialization of universities, an online chat of the religion of technology, and an online talk with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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