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StuDocu: academics angry as lecture notes shared without consent

Written by: Anna McKie
Published on: 4 Oct 2021

Man photocopying a book

Source: iStock

Academics have expressed anger after finding that their teaching materials, including their original research, have been uploaded to a file-sharing website.

StuDocu allows students to share lecture and examination notes, with users able to read some material for free and required to pay a fee or upload their own documents in return for access to “premium” content.

However, a search of the site reveals that students have been sharing not just their own notes but also materials produced by lecturers, such as handouts, lecture slides and test questions. One academic said that they had found almost an entire module uploaded to StuDocu.

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Claire Lougarre, lecturer in human rights law at the University of Southampton, found her own materials on the site through a chance Google search.

“StuDocu is making money from universities’ and their academics’ intellectual property, which has been uploaded without their consent,” she said.

“It takes a lot of work to come up with teaching materials, and it’s not just the time taken on the material for that particular year, but the culmination of years of experience as we constantly improve our content.”

Amsterdam-based StuDocu, which was founded in 2013, now boasts 15 million users across 2,000 universities globally, with more than 4 million documents on the site. Earlier this year it raised $50 million (£36 million) in venture capital funding.

But Dr Lougarre said many academics were unaware that their work was being shared on the site without their consent. When she raised the issue on Twitter, she was inundated with responses from colleagues around the world, with some reporting that they had found parts of their unpublished research shared via lecture slides.

Students “should feel able to come to us, in our office hours for example, if they need help”, Dr Lougarre said. Materials on StuDocu “may be out of date or not relevant” for courses at other institutions, she added.

Joseph Keenan, senior lecturer in psychology at Manchester Metropolitan Universitywrote on Twitter that he was “absolutely appalled to find lectures I spent so long developing on this site. Feel both exploited and disappointed. Even worse that someone else has profited from the hard work put in by me and other colleagues.”

Reynald Fasciaux, chief operating officer at StuDocu, said the company “fully understands that some professors may react in such a way” to their work being shared.

“StuDocu does not allow for unlawful activities to take place on its platform and is committed to help protect the intellectual property rights of third parties in the best way we can,” he said.

“If it happens that a specific piece of content falls through the cracks, then we invite the copyright holders to report the alleged infringing documents to our compliance team, using our official [notice and take-down] process.”

However, academics have complained that the take-down process is difficult and time-consuming, requiring them to list individual documents.

Last year Canada’s Laval University said it was considering barring students from using StuDocu, raising concerns that notes drafted by undergraduates may misrepresent its academics.

But Mr Fasciaux said StuDocu shared “a common goal with professors and universities” and that many academics wanted to embrace the vision of “setting knowledge free”.