College Senate discusses intellectual property rights, tables further talks as committee revises proposal

Student Senate convened on Wednesday April 10 for their weekly meeting (pictured above). Student Senate sends representatives to the College Senate, which met on Tuesday April 9 and talked about intellectual property rights (Udeshi Seneviratne/ Photo Editor).

Faculty, staff and students have started conversations about the rights of faculty regarding their intellectual property. At the Tuesday April 9 College Senate meeting, the college community discussed various proposals. 

The College Senate originally discussed a proposal from the Faculty Affairs Committee at the March 12 Senate meeting before the Executive Committee introduced a revised proposal at the meeting this week. 

The proposal recommended that language be added to the Code of Conduct that explicitly prevents the sharing of intellectual property among students. 

“The term ‘intellectual property’ includes the rights pertaining to all course materials, including but not limited to slides, the syllabus, assignments, course notes, course recordings (whether audio or video) and examinations or quizzes,” the proposal said. “The intellectual property rights for these materials belong to the individual or organization which created them.”

The reason for this change comes from the discovery that students have allegedly sold professors’ information from classes to websites that then distribute answers online. Faculty find this fact especially problematic because companies are profiting off of stolen work with the original creator having no say in its use or receiving any of the profit.

United University Professions campus representative Weston Kennison argued that this practice was wide-spread and that the college should address it. 

“People [are] just simply signing up for courses during the add-drop [period] for five minutes, downloading the material and then dropping the course ... and [are] then selling material,” Kennison said. “What would happen if you painted a painting and it was in an exhibit and somebody walked up, took a photograph of it and went out and made greeting cards and started selling them.” 

Student Association President Corey Wilkinson raised the student perspective at the Senate meeting. “I’ve been discussing this proposal with students and the majority have expressed confusion and a lack of clarity over what this would look like and what enforcement would be,” Wilkinson said. “[There has also been] a lack of student consultation so that way they can have an understanding of this. So, I’m speaking against [the proposal] due to those concerns.” 

College Senate Past-Chair James McLean challenged the contention that students have not been consulted on the issue. 

“This proposal was presented a month ago and it’s the job of the Student Senators to bring their opinions forward. I’d really like to hear those, but I don’t think its proper to claim that this has somehow not had opinions from students,” McLean said at the meeting. “If this needs further working to be acceptable the question is … who is best to do that work?” 

Kennison brought the issue to the state board of UUP. Kennison also raised the notion that professors cannot make corrections to the PowerPoint slides, so it can attach unintended work to their name. Slides also often include Geneseo’s official logo, which may create problems for the college as a whole as it exemplifies a stamp of approval of the college, according to Kennison.

The increased concerns among the faculty partly stem from the evolution of technology, which accompanies an evolution within intellectual property rights, causing new regulations to be made, accoridng to Kennison. 

“The notion of intellectual property as it continues to evolve generally in the world is also evolving specifically in our relationship with SUNY when we’d talk about these things,” Kennison said. 

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio works to oversee the implementation of changes to the Code of Conduct, including whether the Code is legally compliant. Bonfiglio spoke at the College Senate meeting about various hurdles to the Senate’s proposed plans, given conversations he had with legal advisors to the college.

“In this particular case, our attorneys have been pretty clear about what’s not possible [with the proposal] … If you pass the resolution because you think our attorney doesn’t have any authority here or that it’s just one person’s opinion, what will happen next is that I will share the resolution with our attorney,” Bonfiglio said at the meeting. “Our attorney will say ‘Bob, I already told you, this doesn’t pass legal muster, and this is what I recommend.’”

At the conclusion of the College Senate discussion, they decided to send the resolution back to the Faculty Affairs Committee in order to ensure it complied with laws outside Geneseo and to account for opinions expressed during the debate.

Student Senator senior Victoria Domon felt that considering the resolution further was the right step for the Senate to take. 

“A lot of students came to the meeting yesterday to bring up their concerns and I think that it was good that they tabled it and brought it back to the Faculty Affairs Committee to make it more clear about staying within the law,” Domon said. “I think they made a good decision to do that.”

Student Association Director of Public Affairs and Student Senator senior Rohan Bhuchar felt that the policy discussed at the Senate meeting was too ambiguous. 

“I think part of the problem is that there was too much of a gray area. People asked the question… ‘if someone took a photo of a slide, would it go against the policy’ and people really couldn’t answer that question,” Bhuchar said. “So, the policy seems very gray” 

Ultimately, Kennison emphasizes that students should think ethically about this issue and whether or not it’s okay to engage in a practice like this.

“There’s a wide variety of issues where we’re trying to be very ethical in our behavior,” Kennison said. “There’s no reason that this should not be one more of those issues that people would be ethical about, and one of the things that I’ve always liked about Geneseo is it’s a place where ethical questions are valued and where folks tend to listen.”

Managing editor Malachy Dempsey contributed to this article.