Tape Erasure

Back in my University days, rumor had it that two professors (one black and one white) had made racial comments during classes. They lost their jobs due to the fact lectures had been recorded and so had their comments.

Teachers took action and promptly instituted policies where recordings were destroyed. I took action and reported the issue in an Editorial column I wrote. It was effective in pointing out what was being required of blind students, and learning-disabled students were illegal, and the policy slowly faded into history.


Learning disabilities affect many students in our college system. To be eligible for services and accommodations, students are required to file appropriate paperwork documenting the specifics of their disability. A student could have one manifestation of learning disabilities, such as verbal memory retrieval difficulties: the inability to get out of the brain what is put in; or many components such as organizational difficulties, verbal memory retrieval and distractibility problems combined.

Salem State University includes a phrase on the reverse of “Faculty Contact Forms” (paperwork informing faculty members of accommodations his/her student is entitled to under Section 504), dealing with an

“Agreement for the use of Tape Recorders in the academic classroom.” This statement forces the erasure of lecture notes tape-recorded during the semester after the completion of the course. There are some reasons this policy was instituted.

Dr. Patricia Markunas, a member of SSU’s Psychology department and vice president of the Massachusetts State College Association: the statewide union protecting college academia, candidly discussed issues surrounding this policy in her capacity as a representative and an advocate of SSU teachers.
When asked to define the issues that concern SSU teachers, Dr. Markunas said, “There are a couple of issues. People can be a little intimidated by being tape-recorded. Some people have concerns that what they say in a class might be taken out of context, might be misquoted, or might be misused in some other situation. Classes are fluid and freewheeling, and some faculty may make jokes or may say things that when quoted or played again in some other context sound less than flattering.”
Dr. Markunas continued, “From a legal standpoint, the major concern is that the faculty members’ lectures are their intellectual property; somewhat similar to writing a book or doing a painting or publishing a piece of software. When you tape-record a lecture, you’re capturing the intellectual property in a way that is more permanent than someone just taking notes. The concern is that students not misuse that permanent record of that intellectual property.”
Dr. Markunas also clarified that lecture material is not being sold in the classroom, that payment of tuition does not entitle the student to consider lecture material as purchased property and that the college does not own any teacher’s lecture material.

From these statements, it is clear that professors “own” their lectures. When asked why professors have not resorted to legally copyrighting their lectures (there is no monetary compensation for this type of theft without this process), Dr. Markunas said, “I think it will become an option in the future. The emergence of the Internet and distance education has made those issues more pertinent and timely than ever. This is an issue way beyond individual students with disabilities. This has bigger implications, and soon faculty will do that [copyright]. We [MSCA] may advise them, in fact, to do that.”

John Mullen who is dyslexic and dysgraphic, a college professor at New Mexico State University, and the father of two dyslexic children, said, “I checked with our Campus Office of Support for Students with Disabilities, and they have never heard of such a thing. No professor has ever made such a request. Such a requirement is equivalent to requiring all students destroy their class notes. After all, if a student intended to sell the tapes, a promise to erase them is not going to get in the way; and if the student does not intend to sell them, why punish him or her?”

Through information provided by Dr. Markunas-I was able to access a site that buys student notes. I joined up and scrolled down the college list, SSU was there, but no notes from SSU were available. There were notes

From Boston University UMass of Massachusetts Lowell, ‘Harvard University, and many others. But the notes uploaded to those sites were “written” by the students. No tapes of notes were being provided.

Perhaps that’s because such provisions clearly violate copyright laws; however, written lecture notes can be argued to be interpretations of, and therefore the property of, students.

Is this policy discriminating against learning-disabled and sight impaired students? If sites will only buy written notes, how does destroying tape-recordings aid in preventing this theft? How is note-taking defined? Have you ever made a “mental note” of something you had to do?

I have learning disabilities that make retrieving and organizing information difficult. I also find it difficult to determine what important points a professor’s trying to get across. Voice delivery of such information aids me in that process. Therefore, my notes are on tape. Others are in Braille.

According to the US. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 28 C.F.R. SS 35.160 “ In determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public entity shall give Primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities [emphasis added].”
In addition, “From Appendix A to the 504 regulations, commenting on the auxiliary aids section of the regs, 34 CFR 104.44: Paragraph (b) Every person bound by US law has the mandated right to maintain copies of recordings… provides that institutions may not impose rules that have the effect of limiting the participation of handicapped students in the education program. Such rules include the prohibition of recorders or braillers in classrooms and dog guides in campus buildings. Several recipients expressed concern about allowing students to record lectures because the professor may later want to copyright the lectures. This problem may be solved by requiring students to sign agreements that they will not release the recording or transcription or otherwise hinder the professor’s ability to obtain a copyright.”

I don’t see words in that paragraph that say anything anyone wants to add can be stuck on the tail-end of that promise.

From where I sit, students who need to tape their notes to succeed in college are discriminated against. Those who write notes are not required to throw them away. They can keep them to reference in graduate school. I have to spend two more hours per class than non-LD students to write my notes down on paper to keep them. Writing them down neuters their effectiveness. The level playing field recedes into controversy.

Requiring only learning-disabled students to destroy their notes discriminates against them. Requiring learning-disabled students to destroy their notes will not prevent the sale of college lecture notes.

Federal Law 17 U.S.C-secs. 107, 108 states, “The restrictions of the Copyright Act are not upon the mere production of a copy, but of distribution of that copy. A single personal copy for scholarly, educational, or personal use is not a violation.” (See, e.g., Sony Corp. of America v. (See, e.g., Sony-Corp.’of America v. Universal City Studios, 464 U.S. 417 (1981).) It is an “Absolute Privilege.” Also, federal law supersedes any state-based contracts.

In layman’s terms, these laws say:

1.) Students’ first choices in what aides their learning are to be considered the most important choices.

2.)Section 504: Students have a mandated right to tape-record classes if their documentation supports it.

3.) The Copyright Act: Every person bound by US law has a mandated right to maintain copies of recordings and the like for scholarly, educational, or personal use.

Professors should never have to worry that their life’s work is being spread all over the Internet or being sold by more traditional lecture-note panderers. Intellectual property rights are as important as accommodations for the disabled.

As for what is said in class, no tapes should be allowed to be used in any way that is not conducive to mutual respect and trust. No tapes should be allowed to be used for any retaliation for any slight perceived by a student.

As far as joke-telling goes, this student is grateful for professors so secure in the knowledge of their subject that they can break away from their thought processes long enough to lift tension in classrooms.

But requiring students to destroy their tapes is wrong; it is a violation of their rights to require them to do so. We’ve come too far to step so far backward.

As for myself, I promise not to use tapes of my classes for any purpose other than to learn. But I also promise to fight this infringement of my right to learn and to keep learning.

Copyright 2000 Joyce Bowen






About the Author: Joyce Bowen is a freelance writer and public speaker. Inquiries can be made at crwriter@comcast.net

Sobre el autor: Joyce Bowen es un escritor independiente y orador público. Las consultas pueden hacerse en crwriter@comcast.net

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