Less than a week after this month’s launch of CrimsonConnect.com, a student-driven portal created as an alternative to the University’s my.harvard.edu Web site, the project’s leader received an e-mail from Harvard administrators requesting that PIN-protected content be removed from the portal.
Tom D. Hadfield ’08, the student leader of Crimson Connect, removed the material in question, but the episode sheds light on the school’s attitude toward use of its content.
Harvard has a history of guarding its material closely, famously sending future Facebook.com creator and former undergrad Mark E. Zuckerberg to the Administrative Board for an earlier Web site that used House facebook photos.
“It’s a shame that administrators tend to provide a regulatory environment rather than a supportive environment for student entrepreneurs,” Hadfield said.
Crimson Connect’s entry into cyberspace drew the attention of employees at FAS Computer Services, and Larry Levine, the chief information officer there, responded by contacting Hadfield to express his concern.
“People had surmised that some of the content was reproduced content from course syllabi or content that normally one would need their Harvard PIN in order to see,” Levine said.
Hadfield responded by removing password-protected information from the “courses” section of his site, which now comprises only information for two courses that make their sites publicly available without a Harvard PIN.
But though the information in question was password-protected, Harvard’s copyright claim to it is not necessarily clear cut.
“I will say that in general, factual information is not something the University can restrict as a copyright thing,” said Jason Schultz, a staff attorney who specializes in intellectual property law at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “From a legal point of getting sued, factual information is one of the solid grounds you can have for republishing.”
Schultz added that this could hold even if the information were password protected.
But Jonathan L. Zittrain, the Berkman visiting professor for entrepreneurial legal studies at the Law School, cautioned that the University could make access to such material conditional on not making it publicly available.
But whether copyright would extend to course syllabi is still an open question.
“Syllabi are more creative expressions than bus schedules, and if not paraphrased—to capture only the underlying facts of what is assigned—could be thought of as under copyright,” Zittrain wrote.
For now, though, Harvard seems intent on protecting its password-accessible content from publication.
“Anything that’s PIN-protected is PIN-protected for a reason,” said University spokesman John D. Longbrake. “We would expect that if anyone wanted to use any of that material, they would go to the originator of that material and use them.”
But regardless of any copyright issues, Zittrain sees potential for cooperation between student Web entrepreneurs like Hadfield and the Harvard administration.
“Far short of lawsuits, there’s lots of room for the two to work together to harness the creativity and energy of the students to produce a cutting-edge portal that everyone can be proud of,” he wrote.
Hadfield said he was committed to ensuring no copyright or trademark infringement on the site, but that he wanted to work with administrators to put more courses’ information on the site “to expand the range of course modules on Crimson Connect.”
—Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at email@example.com.