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Appeals court: Course syllabi not public records

Appeals court: Course syllabi not public records

August 28th, 2014 in News

Correction: In the original version of this story about a court ruling that determined that course syllabi are the intellectual property of their creators, The Associated Press erroneously reported that it was a federal appeals court decision. It was a ruling by a state appeals court, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.

A corrected version of the story is below:

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Course syllabi are the intellectual property of their creators and not considered public records under Missouri's Sunshine Law, a state appeals court ruled this week.

The National Council on Teacher Quality filed a motion in late 2012 seeking to force the University of Missouri system to release copies of the documents college faculty members prepare for their students to outline topics to be covered and expectations for their classes. It's part of a nationwide effort to monitor what aspiring teachers learn in college.

In addition to the University of Missouri system, university presidents across the state also declined to participate in what they called "ill-conceived 'research'" conducted "in a coercive way from outside the profession."

Last year a Boone County Circuit Court judge rejected the council's efforts to require release of the course syllabi under the state's open records laws, and on Tuesday the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District upheld that ruling, the Columbia Daily Tribune ( reported.

University of Missouri system spokesman John Fougere said the university is pleased with the ruling and had taken its stance against releasing the syllabi out of respect for the rights of faculty members who created them.

"We are glad that both courts to review the matter have concluded that we acted lawfully," Fougere said in a statement.

The Boone County ruling held that "faculty members hold copyright ownership in their syllabi and, thus, that the syllabi's disclosure was protected by the Federal Copyright Act."

Arthur McKee, managing director of the NCTQ's teacher preparation study, told the Tribune in 2012 that the group was collecting the information nationwide, and most universities had complied with the requests. A similar legal challenge in Minnesota was ruled in NCTQ's favor.

The Missouri appeals court said NCTQ's request for access to the syllabi is not protected from "disclosure" by federal copyright statutes - which address only "reproduction and distribution" - but the university had the right to deny the request to copy the documents under the copyright law.