Sharing notes is as old as school itself. Missed class? Get the notes from a friend. Recently, websites have emerged that play the middle man between note-takers and note-needers for students all over the country. Grade Buddy, one such website, pays students to upload their notes and charges others to access them. Dean of Students Matt Caires confirmed that students can make a considerable amount of money selling their notes, he estimated that per course an individual could earn “upwards of a couple hundred dollars.”
An important caveat of the process is that the notes are taken by the uploader, not someone else. Earlier this semester, a student in the College of Letters and Science uploaded notes from one of her classes to Grade Buddy. However, the notes were not original and belonged to the professor who had posted them to D2L for her students. “Uploading notes that don’t belong to you; that’s against the rules,” Caires said, “especially when they’re the professor’s notes.”
According to Caires, the student, after uploading the professor’s notes to Grade Buddy, then posted to D2L that the material was available on the Grade Buddy website. There appeared to be no malicious intent on behalf of the student, according to Caires and the professor. The individual “was very open about it,” he said. “The student was unaware of the extent of the violation.”
After seeing the student’s post on D2L, the professor submitted a report of academic misconduct to the dean of students office. Caires sought the advice of MSU Legal Counsel about the classification of the infraction, ultimately deciding that it fell under student conduct code rather than the more severe academic misconduct.
“Stealing someone else’s intellectual property and passing it along as yours and then profiting from it is theft,” he explained. Theoretically, the action could be considered criminal, but the professor would have to decide to what extent she would like it prosecuted. “I do not believe the professor submitted this to the police department,” Caires clarified.
Shortly after the theft was discovered, Grade Buddy was contacted and the professor’s notes were promptly removed.
Caires stated that this has happened before, and precedence from that case a few years ago was used to determine the university’s course of action this time. While possible repercussions range from disciplinary reprimand — a veritable slap-on-the-wrist — to suspension, Caires indicated that in this case, the consequences for the student were on the lesser end. “The professor was not interested in suspending this young woman,” and in cases where a mistake was made without clear malicious intent, he said, “we treat these kind of cases, generally, as learning opportunities.” In this scenario, Caires wants the lesson to be expanded beyond the individual student so that this can be a reminder to all about intellectual property theft.
While putting your own notes online and being paid for it is “probably not a current code of conduct violation,” Caires believes it raises some issues of ethics. He also explained that allowing students to upload notes facilitates and condones others not going to class and, all the while, Grade Buddy profits from that. Ultimately, Caires believes that getting someone else’s notes whether for free or online is ineffective and stresses that “there’s no substitute for class.”