Buying notes online gets mixed feedback from professors

Mark Haymond

Read about landing a career at FlashNotes here.

Daniel Hawes browses a website. “Public Policy Exam Review #1” costs $6. He doesn’t add it to his cart. Why would he buy something he already owns?

Hawes is an assistant professor of political science. The website is, an online marketplace where students can buy and sell class notes. When Hawes heard from a student that notes from his class were for sale online, he had to see it for himself.

Students sharing class notes isn’t new. The first shared notes were probably written on papyrus. What’s new is students being able to share their notes with anyone, anywhere, and make a few bucks in the process.

Professors don’t necessarily have a problem with this.

Lawrence Marks is an associate professor of marketing. He is more interested in students learning the material than anything else.

“I make my lectures available everyday on open-source websites,” Marks said. “Anyone in the world can drop in and take my classes whenever they want.”

Marks even gave founder Mike Matousek, who graduated from Kent in 2010, advice on marketing his brainchild.

Hawes agrees that students’ education is the most important thing, but sees potential problems with the value of the materials for sale. Even priced at $6, “Public Policy Exam Review #1” may be too expensive.

“The irony, depending on what (the seller) is selling, is that they may be things that I post for free to my students,” Hawes said. “It may be misleading.”

Hawes said that he is conflicted. He doesn’t want someone else profiting from work he has created, but he also doesn’t want to deprive his students of resources that may help them do better in his course.

Students who sell notes online may be putting themselves at legal risk, according to a Kent State law professor.

Professor Mark Goodman teaches media law. He believes that students need to exercise extreme caution when selling notes on websites like

“If what the student is posting is a study guide, a Powerpoint presentation, a quiz, or an exam, there is very little question the material is copyright protected and owned by the faculty member,” Goodman said. “Without permission from the faculty member, there is no way for a student to legally sell the material.”

Hawes said he also fears that students may eventually use the service to outright cheat.

“If it’s their notes (they are selling), I have no problem with that,” Hawes said. “If I start seeing exams popping up in advance, that is another issue.”

What about notes taken by students during lectures? Goodman sees potential legal issues here, as well.

“If the lecture that the notes were drawn from is based on a Powerpoint presentation or the faculty member’s own notes that are copyright protected,” Goodman said. “If the student is taking them anywhere close to verbatim, I think there is an argument to be made that the notes themselves constitute a copyright problem.”

There are ways for students posting notes online to protect themselves legally, Goodman said. Notes should not be directly copied from the lecture or lecture materials, they should be written in the student’s own words.

“The information itself isn’t copyrighted, it is the way that it is expressed,” Goodman said. “The way the faculty member wrote it and presented it is protected.”

There is one foolproof way for a student selling notes online to avoid breaking the law, Goodman said.

“Ask for the professor’s permission. Some faculty won’t object to it,” Goodman said.

Contact Mark Haymond at [email protected].