A rapidly growing course preparatory Web site, FinalsClub.org, is moving forward with a plan to expand its site in spite of controversy over the legality of the venture.
The Web site, which allows students to share notes, create study groups, and blog about lectures and sections, recently hired 10 Harvard College students to serve as BETA testers for the site.
Recent moves to develop new programming and roll out innovative features indicate that the project may have moved passed a brewing legal conflict with the University which came to a fore last year. In the spring of 2008, a professor asked that a blog about his course be removed from the Web site or that the blogging student would face expulsion. The student immediately took down the blog.
In response to the incident the University Office of the General Counsel wrote in an e-mail that “under the federal Copyright Act of 1976, a lecture is automatically copyrighted as long as the professor prepared some tangible expression of the content—notes, an outline, a script, a video or audio recording.”
“We have to respect a professor’s intellectual property” said Andrew J. Magliozzi ’05, founder of FinalsClub.org.
According to Magliozzi, the company has since taken steps to avoid additional conflicts with the University.
When a course blog or class notes are posted to the site, the course’s professor is notified by e-mail. The professor can then choose to “opt-out” and have lecture blogs removed from the Web site.
The site allows teaching fellows to create blogs devoted to lectures for a course.
Magliozzi said that he has contacted 30 professors about the site but his attempts to get in contact with Harvard’s administration have been in vain.
“The University has pretty much given me the silent treatment,” he said. “I e-mailed every dean of the College and the University and no one would meet with me.”
University officials could not be reached for comment for this story.
Other institutions such as Yale, Columbia, MIT and Stanford have already adopted “open courseware” programs that allow the general public free access to lecture notes, exams and videos online.
“Harvard has some catching up to do when institutions such as MIT are pioneering freely available course materials online,” Schreiber wrote. [CLARIFICATION APPENDED]
Magliozzi has since focused on expanding FinalsClub.org’s popularity and versatility by developing projects such as a messaging system, a Facebook application and an equation editor for math and science courses.
“We have a lot of cool things on deck coming in early March, with the idea that by reading period, we should have a really robust site,” he said.
Even as the site continues to grow, Magliozzi maintains that its purpose is not to make money. The Web site has filed for not-for-profit status and Magliozzi said that they do not plan to continue paying BETA testers after this year.
CORRECTION AND CLARIFICATION BELOW
The Feb. 18 news article "Finalclub.org Passes Punch" gave an incorrect name for the Web site Finalsclub.org in its headline. It is not Finalclub.org.
Due to an editing error, the article also did not give the name and title of Professor of Chemistry Stuart L. Schreiber, who was quoted in the piece.