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I am a college student who is currently enrolled in a class where the professor posts lecture videos online with ads enabled. I was wondering if this is legal; the professor is being paid by the university to lecture, but is also making money from ads on his lecture videos.

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    It's probably legal; I doubt there is any law against it (but we don't know what jurisdiction you're in, so no way to know what your laws are). But it probably violates the university's rules against conflicts of interest. May 16, 2017 at 23:14
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    Is it legal ir ethical to write a text book and make a little money?
    – Jon Custer
    May 17, 2017 at 0:09
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    @JonCuster: Yes, but whether it's ethical to make said money off your own students is open to question. May 17, 2017 at 0:13
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    @JonCuster the textbook analogy would apply if purchasing the textbook was mandatory. As students, we are required to watch these videos. I would say that publishing your own book and making it a required purchase is inherently biased and is similar to this scenario (albeit without monetary cost to the student body) May 17, 2017 at 0:51
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    @WilliamAnderson Recommending own textbook is widespread and also close to mandatory. And unlike posted videos, students directly pay for it, while watching the videos makes student no extra cost (and most probably not more than few cents income to the prof), while I can see the usefulness of it.
    – Greg
    May 17, 2017 at 1:02

5 Answers 5

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Legal? Probably yes, depending on university policy.

Ethical? Universities and politics nowadays encourage academics to be business-savvy and profit-oriented (I guess, as long as the uni gets a cut). So, while the described constellation indeed carries a "smell", it may be perfectly in line what society wants academics to do.

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    To the downvoters: note that OP was talking about "ads enabled". We are not talking about entertainment videos, but education. May 17, 2017 at 0:59
  • AS wishizuk has pointed out in another answer, the presence of ads does not mean the professor is making any money from them.
    – Bob Brown
    May 12 at 16:54
  • @BobBrown I think ads without monetization is a new thing, I answered what the OP asked (which included the assumption that the prof is making money). May 13 at 19:58
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I am a college professor, and I have literally thousands of lecture/example videos on YouTube. Since I did not want any advertisement to interfere with my videos, I have not monetized my channel; however, YouTube started to add ads to some of my videos anyway. To be honest, it made me think about monetizing my channel if they put ads on my videos anyway. I have not looked into the policies the college I teach at has in place, though.

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    How does this answer the question? May 12 at 14:27
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    @user2316602, to my perception, it strongly suggests that the ads on the professor's videos possibly were added by someone else, and not in their control. May 12 at 21:37
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If the institution provides the server and other necessary resources to host videos, then the students are essentially paying for this through their tuition and shouldn't have to put up with ads.

However, if the professor provides the recording equipment etc., and has to arrange for the video hosting, etc. without this being provided by the institution, then I don't see anything wrong with this. It might even be that the video hosting site imposes the ads and the professor doesn't profit from them at all.

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    Even if the uni offers hosting, there might be limitations in size, availability etc that makes less desirable then Youtube. Also, the teacher may want to make it available for a wider audience than his/her students. In that case, using the university hosting would be the unethical solution.
    – Greg
    May 17, 2017 at 12:58
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I have created video content for my students almost since I began teaching, and I created extensive video content starting with H1N1, when we were told our students couldn't be required to come to campus to attend lecture.

Our materials must be accessible. (And morally, ethically, should be!) Youtube was the first platform I could use that offered closed-captioning, so I moved my content to Youtube and uploaded the transcripts as captions. (Required -- the automatically generated captions don't count for ADA purposes, or so I am told, and I agree that the capitalization and punctuation is important.)

The videos for my students are "unlisted," so I can't monetize them, but Youtube still puts ads on them.

I wish they didn't -- I wish educational content could be advertisement- and distraction-free, but I guess it's the price I've paid for being able to offer accessible content.

My college since has purchased a server that supports closed-captioning, but it's clunky to use and I'm not going to port the hundreds of videos per course that is my current set over to a new server.

I've told my students, once I noticed the ads, that my channel isn't monetized. (The outspoken ones indicated it would be good for me if they were.) I don't think there's necessarily an ethical issue if they were, and I think the textbook analogy is a good one. Youtube videos are another form of publishing, and we are allowed to require books that we have published and receive royalties for.

I do think there's potentially an issue if a faculty member has a monetized channel and they're requiring students to view content that is motivated more by clicks than pedagogy, but that is a different area -- material that isn't appropriate (sufficiently intellectually challenging, e.g.) for a college course, which is a separate issue.

It is interesting to me that this student is bothered by the faculty member potentially making money on the channel. Is it an erosion of trust?

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To start with a useful analogy, it has long been the case in academia that professors can assign their own (commercially published) textbook for a course, and even make this the "mandatory" text for the course. This is considered legitimate even if the professor has the power to provide a free version of the text instead, but chooses not to do so. Universities have generally taken the view that it is reasonable for students to incur basic costs (above the course fees) to obtain materials for the course, and that it is okay for the professor to make commercial profit from the material in this case. Whilst there is arguably a conflict of interest in this situation, universities have not generally been concerned about this, and they tend to see it as a necessary consequence of having experts who write textbooks teach their courses. The only time this might raise an issue is if the university draws the conclusion that the assigned commercial material is unreasonable in the circumstances (e.g., tangential to the course objectives).

Similarly, while there is arguably a conflict of interest in the case you describe, is is extremely unlikely that a university would have any problem with their professors using online teaching videos for their courses, even if they have a commercial stake in those videos, or gain advertising revenue from those videos. On most platforms the advertising is built into the platform, but even if it is something enabled by the professor, that is still roughly analogous to gaining profit from selling a commercial textbook. As with the case of an assigned textbook, the university is unlikely to have a problem with this unless they draw the conclusion that the material is unreasonable in the circumstances (e.g., tangential to the course objectives).

I am not aware of anything that would make this practice illegal --- it has been common practice in universities for generations. One could make ethical objections to the practice (on he basis of a conflict of interest), but solving this might impose bureaucratic rules that are more destructive to the quality of courses as the present practice.

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  • The fact that something was a common practice for generation does not make it a good or a right thing. Not every status quo deserves to be maintained. May 12 at 12:58

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