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Bill would let students share recorded lectures

COLUMBIA (AP) — A St. Louis-area lawmaker has introduced legislation to reverse a new University of Missouri policy that limits how students can redistribute recorded classroom lectures.

A bill filed by state Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, would allow public college students to freely share audio and video recordings of lectures.

The bill is a response to a University of Missouri system policy issued last month that requires students who want to distribute those recordings outside of class to obtain “the express permission” of those on tape. Students and professors who violate the policy could face university disciplinary sanctions. The rule change doesn’t prevent students from sharing recorded lectures with classmates.

The rule emerged in response to an edited video posted online of a labor studies lecture at the Kansas City campus that suggested the professor advocated union violence.

Curtman said some students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis “were concerned about the policy because they think they ought to be able to record lectures and share them with anybody. I agree with that.”

University administrators would not directly comment on the bill but did reiterate the purpose of the policy.

“Students should be free to contribute their own thoughts and opinions in a learning environment void of fear that their personal opinions will be disseminated outside of the classroom,” university spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said.

The policy issued by interim university president Steve Owens in mid-December says it’s intended to ensure that students and professors can have open discussions without worrying that their remarks would invite outside “ridicule, harassment or reprisal from those who do not agree with their views.”

An internal investigation by the Kansas City campus strongly supported professor Judy Ancel, director of the university’s Institute for Labor Studies, after she was targeted by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website, which obtained recorded copies of her lectures.

Ancel has previously said her comment about union violence was a paraphrased remark of a statement made in a documentary shown in class about the 1968 Memphis garbage workers’ strike and Martin Luther King’s assassination. The recordings were obtained from a university website available only to students enrolled in the class.

Charles Davis, a journalism professor at the Columbia campus and former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said the broader access to the videos prior to the policy change wound up helping, not harming, Ancel and another professor who was targeted.

“If you put some sort of prohibition on (recordings), then it’s he-said, she-said city,” Davis said.

The university’s new policy is too broad, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center and a commercial litigation attorney. One concern, he said, is whether it would apply to student reporters who obtain a contentious recording from someone else. As written, it would seem to prohibit a student reporter from distributing such video.

“What the courts have always said is that if you, as a journalist, come into possession of newsworthy information, that information is yours to print,” LoMonte said. “It doesn’t matter if the original source violated a rule or stepped across a line.”

He also worries about the impact on students who experience harassment or other problems in a classroom.

“If a student really felt like she was suffering harassment in a course, the student might very well want a recording for her own protection,” LoMonte said.

The policy will be applied on a case-by-case basis and shouldn’t hinder a student’s ability to report problems, said Clyde Bentley, an associate journalism professor who helped tweak the wording.

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