ask a scatterbrain: lecture recording

A reader writes in, “I discovered today that some number of students have been audio recording my lectures. I never gave my permission for these recordings to be done. I am willing to allow them to keep the existing recordings and make additional ones, as long as they promise to use these digital files for their own purposes, and not sell or distribute them to anyone else without my express permission. I’d like them to sign an agreement to this effect. Can anyone point me to a useful model, and is there anything else I should consider about this issue?”

15 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: lecture recording”

    1. Nope. Extemporaneous delivery is not protected by copyright so your lectures are only copy-written if you read your notes verbatim. (And I pity your students if you do read your notes verbatim). This has been an issue a few times at UCLA when the university attempted to suppress note-taking services.


  1. Hmm, so I presume there is a step somewhere that would preclude an enrolled student from being able to video record your lecture and being able to post it on the web. Do you know where it is? Or is my premise incorrect?


  2. I’m happy to be identified as the author of this query (Shamus was kind to have the default expectation I did not want to be ID). Here is the relevant statement of Barnard’s policy for @jeremy’s question:

    “With respect to faculty-owned course content and courseware under paragraph I.E.2., a faculty member may make the work freely available for academic and scholarly use, without the authority or permission of the College (subject to the provisions of paragraph I.E.2 (d)), to recipients who agree that they will not make commercial use of the material, so long as the College’s name is not used in connection with works so made available, other than to identify the faculty member as an officer of instruction or employee at the College.”

    From here:


  3. Ok, thanks. But what is the harm you’re trying to prevent, Jenn? If you’re concerned about note-taking services, I would think recordings would be better than crummy inaccurate notes.


  4. There has been a bit of a problem with this here – meaning using recordings to levy complaints against professors because of grade issues. (These are graduate students not undergrads btw) I personally don’t care if students audio or video record my lectures if it’s for their own use. What I do care about is having my lectures spliced and being misrepresented in some other venue like Youtube. Therefore this is the language I have added to my graduate level syllabi.

    Protocol Regarding Cell phones, audio and video recordings: Cell phones should be turned off during class. If you have a reason for needing your cell phone on during class, please let me know ahead of time. No audio and video recordings of the class are allowed.


  5. My ultimate concern is that I develop and implement a policy that I can apply evenly across the years, covering both classes in which I am presenting research I plan to publish, and classes in which I have little stake in how students use my ideas.


  6. One semester I made my own audio recording and posted them on Blackboard, since I was using them as notes to myself for my textbook anyway. The students loved it and it wasn’t a huge hassle once I got used to it. (I tried to get my dictation software to transcribe them, too, so I could just copy and paste them into the book, but couldn’t get it to work…) I don’t know if anyone made bad use of the recordings, though.


  7. @PNC #8. We were told that claimed default ownership of lectures — audio or written — posted on Blackboard. You can see the problems, especially in online courses with audio lectures. Fire the prof, keep the course. So now I put a copyright symbol on anything I write and distribute. I haven’t done audio so I don’t know about copyrighting those.


  8. I have not thought about this before. Now I see that there are several distinct threads to worry about with different implications:
    (1) Your stupidest moment lecturing ending up as a YouTube hit. Or your lecture being edited into a pastiche that makes you look like an idiot or evil incarnate or some such and becoming a YouTube or other sensation.
    (2) Your University taking possession of your intellectual property, firing you, and having someone else teach your material.
    (3) Your students publicizing your work in progress and letting someone else steal your ideas.
    (4) Your students using records of your lectures to bolster a case of mis-match between lectures and tests, or some other basis for a grade dispute.


    1. We did have an incident 3 or 4 years ago where a student recorded part of an instructor’s lecture and then sent it to a local right-wing radio talk show. They sent out a camera guy to try to film her a few days later, the talk show jumped on her, and she got threatening letters, including the ever-obligatory random death threats.

      That’s when that someone could record you and perhaps catch you saying something stupid, or appearing to say something stupid when it’s taken out of context, and it could be a real problem, especially if you teach touchy subjects, as most sociologists do.


  9. FWIW, I called my lawyer friend. Lectures are not “in a fixed medium” (unless you read notes verbatum, as Gabriel said, or audio/videotape yourself), so copyright isn’t the active protection. However, there are laws against the unauthorized recording of your voice or image, which she claims are in play. If you wish to give your permission for their caputre, I was told you can do so, but you can stipulate the conditions of your permission (only for personal use) on a syllabus or similar.


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