Legislature may overturn Mizzou's ban on sharing classroom recordings

MISSOURI — Staterepresentatives have filed a bill that could overturn a University of Missouripolicy banning the sharing of classroom recordings.

Missouri House Bill 1229, sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman,R-Pacific, would allow college students to record lectures for their“individual use,” as long as the student isn’t making money from it.

“People have tax dollars going into these institutions,”Curtman said. “I think it’s reasonable that a student should have the freedomto record things that are going on in a classroom.”

Stephen Owens, interim president of the University ofMissouri’s four-campus system, ordered Dec. 20 that students be prohibited fromsharing recordings with anyone not registered for the class in which they aremade. Those found in violation of the rule can face discipline from theuniversity. Owens said the goal was “to foster a safe environment for learning,”according to the order.

The executive order followed conservative blogger AndrewBreitbart’s publication of a video depicting footage from two classrooms on theSt. Louis and Kansas City campuses. The video portrayed the professors aspro-union extremists.

Charles Davis, an MU journalism professor and media lawexpert, said the main problem with Owens’ order is that it limits newsgatheringin classrooms, which he points out are public forums in public schools.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” Davis said. “Thereis no problem.”

Rep. Curtman said he introduced the bill after some of hisconstituents, who are students themselves, brought the issue to his attention.His concern is that Owens’ order could limit students who use classroomrecordings as study aids.

Since newsworthy events are part of a college journalist’sstudies, Curtman said he thinks student journalists would benefit from thebill. Publishing an event recorded in a classroom would probably fall underthat student’s “individual use,” Curtman said.

Davis has concerns over the bill’s wording.

“I kind of like it; it doesn’t go far enough, unless ‘suchstudent’s individual use’ could be seen to include journalism. Which I guess itcould, if it’s a student journalist,” Davis said. “What I don’t want to see isrestrictions on newsgathering in the name of making a ‘safe environment’ for usto talk to each other in a classroom.”

Curtman said he understands both sides of the argument. Someprofessors are concerned about protecting their intellectual property inclassrooms. Some students, he added, may also be concerned that their abilityto “freely express their ideas” is compromised by the thought that someone isrecording them.

Davis rejected those arguments, and said a restriction onthe use of recording devices in the digital age is simply “never going tohappen.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said he’s glad thelegislature is planning to discuss the issue.

“The university took a mallet to kill a fly,” LoMonte said.“Hopefully we can get to a point of accepting the legitimate republishing ofsomething said in classrooms as journalists.”