USC faculty members expressed concern over people taking advantage of Zoom class recordings and using them to steal other students’ or professors’ ideas or creative expressions.

Professors were asked on March 22 to record their classes on Zoom or other platforms and make them available for students afterword as a way to increase access for those who may be all over the world.

“Because having asynchronous access to the material you are delivering is essential to student success, it is necessary that all lectures be recorded and made available to all students," Provost Charles Zukoski wrote in an email to faculty. "It also allows for flexibility in how and when you teach, as well.”

According to information from the “Academic FAQs for Faculty” page on USC’s COVID-19 website, the class recording requirement wants to accommodate students who face challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as caregiving responsibilities, unstable or inaccessible internet connections, time zone differences, and unfortunately illness. Links to all recordings and automatic transcriptions should be made available to all students in the class.

Erik Johnson, Vice Dean at the Viterbi School for Engineering, believes graduate professors would be most at risk for intellectual property theft.

“There might be some faculty in graduate classes, especially PhD-oriented classes, where they are talking about their cutting edge research, new ideas, things that might not be out there yet. They may be concerned about intellectual property,” said Johnson.

Johnson is also worried about the intellectual property ownership of class material. The university generally allows faculty to use their own material and reuse it. Therefore, the university doesn’t claim ownership of it.

Johnson said that it is very much possible that if he creates a slide on a certain topic, someone could Zoom-bomb the class to access those slides or even record them to release to the public for others to use.

“Once something is recorded digitally, arguably, it never disappears, whether it’s a recording of a class or pictures of class material,” said Johnson.

Johnson said there was one faculty member in Viterbi who was concerned about recording lectures because of intellectual property damage. The faculty member, who was not named, was also concerned that it would stifle students from being able to be open up with their opinions and take part in conversations.

Jenn de la Fuente, a public relations lecturer at Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, said the information presented in class is not always the finished product ready to be displayed outside of the classroom.

“In research-related fields, creative fields, medical fields, there might be bits and pieces of research or building blocks of your theory that you use to demonstrate a point to students, but are unfinished or are trade secrets,” said Fuente. “It is kind of hard to blur the line using something to demonstrate a point to students as a professor, and the fact that it is not necessarily something polished for public consumption”.

Fuente said if a student were to share lectures outside of the USC community, the public may consume material without the context they need to understand it. If it is a trade secret, people could then use the research for their own purposes without giving credit.

“We live in a snippet culture where we only see snippets of things. We are not taking the time to go beyond the snippet and understand its full context,” said Fuente. “If you are missing context, what does that really mean?”

Fuente teaches a design class in which critique by peers is crucial for learning. If someone outside that class were to get a portion of what the student said, what their critique was, or even their design, Fuente believes that would be unfair to her students.

While there are concerns about intellectual property being misused, some believe the recording of lectures is necessary to provide access to students.

“I think most people recognize that despite whatever worries we have about privacy and recording, it is really important for students who have difficulty in terms of access because they have constraints on their time or poor internet connection,” said Ariela Gross, press contact for the concerned faculty group.

Annenberg Media reached out to USC to see if it was doing anything to proactively prevent this issue, but it did not get back in time for publication.

According to the university’s COVID-19 information website, professors can delete their recording and transcript files after their course is over and final grades have been submitted. The university will notify students through Blackboard that they may not share class recordings or transcripts outside of their classes. Faculty members who have concerns about protecting their unpublished scholarship may decide not to include that information in the class recording.

As of now, there have been no reports of the stealing of intellectual property, only concerns of it.

Update April 3, 2020, 12:10 a.m.: The story has been updated with information from the university’s COVID-19 information website.

Correction made April 2, 2020 8:15 p.m.: A previous version of this story stated that professors were asked to record their classes starting March 25. They were actually asked to do so on March 22. Annenberg Media apologizes for this error.