Legislature may overturn Mizzou's ban on sharing classroom recordings

MISSOURI — State representatives have filed a bill that could overturn a University of Missouri policy 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 freedom to record things that are going on in a classroom.”

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

The executive order followed conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart’s publication of a video depicting footage from two classrooms on the St. Louis and Kansas City campuses. The video portrayed the professors as pro-union extremists.

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

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

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

Since newsworthy events are part of a college journalist’s studies, Curtman said he thinks student journalists would benefit from the bill. Publishing an event recorded in a classroom would probably fall under that 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 ‘such student’s individual use’ could be seen to include journalism. Which I guess it could, if it’s a student journalist,” Davis said. “What I don’t want to see is restrictions on newsgathering in the name of making a ‘safe environment’ for us to talk to each other in a classroom.”

Curtman said he understands both sides of the argument. Some professors are concerned about protecting their intellectual property in classrooms. Some students, he added, may also be concerned that their ability to “freely express their ideas” is compromised by the thought that someone is recording them.

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

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said he’s glad the legislature 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 of something said in classrooms as journalists.”

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