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Building An Uncensorable Course Guide At Yale

timothy posted about 9 months ago | from the hey-public-high-schools-need-this-too dept.

Education 47

Former Googler and Foursquare employee Sean Haufler is now a student at Yale studying CS and Economics, but he hasn't put away his real-world software skills for academia. When two other Yale students named Harry Yu and Peter Xu were threatened with the school's punishment committee for designing a site that extends and improves the presentation of data from the school-controlled course selection guide (the Yale Bluebook [available only at Yale]), Haufler decided to create a similar site which he hopes will force the school's hand to either allow or deny this kind of data-mashing presentation. He acknowledges that there are legitimate questions about copyright, but Haufler's site treads lightly in a way that Yu and Xus did not: "Banned Bluebook never stores data on any servers. It never talks to any non-Yale servers. Moreover, since my software is smarter at caching data locally than the official Yale course website, I expect that students using this extension will consume less bandwidth over time than students without it. Don’t believe me? You can read the source code. No data ever leaves Yale’s control. Trademarks, copyright infringement, and data security are non-issues. It's 100% kosher." And if the school disagrees? "If Yale denies this right, I'll see you at the punishment committee." Of note: the Yale Bluebook site itself grew out of an independent student project, but was later acquired by the school. Update: 01/20 00:26 GMT by T : Correction: Unlike Yu and Xu, Haufler's approach is not a full-fledged separate site, but rather a Chrome extension that presents the data from Yale's own site differently, rather than at any point re-hosting it. Mea culpa.

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Who and who? (0)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#46006033)

I almost read that as Harry Yu and Pother Yu.

Re:Who and who? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006975)

I read TFA and apparently you did it.

last bastion of cruel MANic discomfort (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006067)

plastic packaging.... most of the others have been clearly identified? spiritual bankruptcy proceedings are ongoing. the innocent stem cells are to be freed?

Correction (4, Informative)

MachDelta (704883) | about 9 months ago | (#46006119)

It's not a replacement website, it's actually just a Chrome extension [google.com] that appears to helpfully mangle the official website.

Re:Correction (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006265)

It's not a replacement website, it's actually just a Chrome extension [google.com] that appears to helpfully mangle the official website.

Now if only he could doing something similar to the /. beta or the mobile site!

what makes it uncensorable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006127)

"Uncensorable" is a bold claim, which ought to be backed by some sort of substantiation. I see nothing of the sort in the summary.
I would just read TFA, but I expect it will be nothing but spammy hype and advertising.
Is there anything to this, or is it exactly the load of bull it appears to be?

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (4, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 9 months ago | (#46006311)

You see nothing of this sort in the summary because the summary is wrong. If you'd read TFA, you would've found out it is *not* a site, as stated by the summary, but rather a browser extension. Since it doesn't reside on any central server but rather in the browser of each individual student, it is indeed effectively uncensorable. However, it should be breakable: if Yale changes their website so that the extension no longer matches it and thus cannot scrape it, it should break.

RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006411)

RTFA is a conspiracy between a select few Slashdot submitters and readers.

I'm thinking that somehow you're all working with the NSA and building karma!

I'm on to you!

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 9 months ago | (#46010713)

However, it should be breakable: if Yale changes their website so that the extension no longer matches it and thus cannot scrape it, it should break.

Then it just turns into a pissing contest over who's willing to update their site/extension for longer.
Or maybe the extension is updated to cache the data on your computer and manipulate it there.

Cat and Mouse games will not suffice. Yale is going to have to face this head on.

Why does it need to BE uncensorable? (1)

John Jorsett (171560) | about 9 months ago | (#46014545)

However, it should be breakable: if Yale changes their website so that the extension no longer matches it and thus cannot scrape it, it should break.

Then it just turns into a pissing contest over who's willing to update their site/extension for longer.
Or maybe the extension is updated to cache the data on your computer and manipulate it there.

Cat and Mouse games will not suffice. Yale is going to have to face this head on.

Somebody explain to me just WHY Yale would have a problem with the same data presented differently. If they're going to this kind of trouble to stamp it out, it must pose a threat of some sort, so what is it?

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 9 months ago | (#46006315)

"Uncensorable" is a bold claim

The "censorship" claim is made to get people riled up. This is not about censorship, but about copyright, which is a completely different issue.

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 9 months ago | (#46006419)

The "censorship" claim is made to get people riled up. This is not about censorship, but about copyright, which is a completely different issue.

Exactly, which is why Haufler's browser extension should be fine - though he will likely have to modify it on a regular basis to compensate when Yale alters their web site in attempts to foil him.

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (3, Insightful)

mspohr (589790) | about 9 months ago | (#46006483)

Yale was censoring coursetable in the name of copyright since it used Yale's copyrighted text. They did this because they didn't like the way coursetable presented the data.
Sean Haufler made a clever hack which is a Chrome extension which displays data from the Yale websites in the same useful format as coursetable but does not require setting up a web site. It just mashes up text and data from Yale servers and presents it nicely in Chrome. It also seems to use some local storage which should decrease bandwidth demands.

Uncensorable since it's not a web site, runs entirely on the users browser and only accesses official Yale data (which students are allowed to access).
Nice hack.

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (2)

davester666 (731373) | about 9 months ago | (#46006793)

completely different legal concept perhaps, but increasingly copyright law is being used to censor unwanted discussion

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (2)

bmo (77928) | about 9 months ago | (#46007513)

copyright, which is a completely different issue.

It's about Yale's misuse of copyright to censor. You cannot copyright raw data. You can only copyright the representation of that data. This has been proven time and again by court cases where phone book publishers tried suing online phone directories and lost. Cookbook publishers were also smacked down by courts because recipes themselves are mere data and instructions and thus not copyrightable. Sweat of the brow isn't enough to apply copyright.

YBB+ wasn't a copyright infringement in any way, shape, or form. If YBB+ had copied the layout and the graphics of the Yale page, then Yale would have been entirely correct. However, that's not the case. The data representation was /better/ and didn't copy YBB.

It's censorship when you pretend that you're on the right side of the law and you use that to intimidate someone into taking down his stuff.

You, sir, are the one who doesn't understand copyright.

--
BMO

Re:what makes it uncensorable? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 9 months ago | (#46010833)

It's about Yale's misuse of copyright to censor.

I'd agree.

YBB+ wasn't a copyright infringement in any way, shape, or form.

Course descriptions are copyrighted.

Anyway, copyright is tangential to the main problem Yale had with the website:
They averaged the student evaluations and displayed it alongside the courses

This violated some agreement regarding course evaluations that the school had with the all teachers and here we are.

News For Priviledged Rich American kids, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006151)

Stuff that matters only to a handfull of Yale students.

Re:News For Priviledged Rich American kids, (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006267)

"Stuff that matters only to a handfull of Unknown and obscure Yale students."

I guess slashdot is all about unknown and insignificant people now days. These people are nobodys. And what moron would leave google and forsquare to go back to school?

The lesson is ... (4, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 9 months ago | (#46006217)

Nobody likes a smartass. Not even at Yale.

Seriously, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that making an improved X has a side effect of making original X look shit and everyone associated with creating it look stupid.

Except, of course, if X is Coca Cola.

Re:The lesson is ... (3, Insightful)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 9 months ago | (#46006427)

Indeed. My hunch is that his workaround of the Wu/Xu site's banishment will be met with great distaste.

1st line Fta: I hope this doesn't get me kicked out of Yale".

At least he's aware what his 15 minutes could cost.

Re:The lesson is ... (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 9 months ago | (#46006845)

At least he's aware what his 15 minutes could cost.

He's only worried about being kicked out; when they can try for a willful copyright infringement suit, with statutory damages in excess of 100K per infringement?

Re:The lesson is ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46007989)

Yes, nobody likes a smartass, but when you're in the right, and it looks like this extension certainly is, the Internet changes the tide on that.

Yale, despite its prestige, will suffer publically if they go about this the wrong way. I don't think I've ever heard the Yale be the butt of a joke, however this could quickly turn into, a 'hell, Yale can't even program a website right' situation.

If they're administration is as smart as their school is to be belived, they'll handle this situation very differently.

Re:The lesson is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46123507)

but when you're in the right, and it looks like this extension certainly is, the Internet changes the tide on that.

Dog jizz. Yale was there before the internet, and it'll be around long after it.

If they're administration is as smart as their school is to be belived

Like you're in a position to judge.

Pro tip. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006381)

Do this kinda shit after you graduate, not before.

Re:Pro tip. (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 9 months ago | (#46006455)

Do this kinda shit after you graduate, not before.

I noticed that everywhere you go, you leave a sticky yellow snail trail...

Re:Pro tip. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46007895)

And preceeding me is 2 bachelors and 2 masters.

Re:Pro tip. (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 9 months ago | (#46008179)

and 200K+ in the hole. Just about the only income they can't get to is the $0.13 hr jail / prison job pay.

How stupid do they think their students are? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006403)

The justification for banning the site was it "let students see the averaged evaluations far too easily". Is this what Yale thinks of its math education, that Yale students can't calculate an average unless their browser does it for them?

Re:How stupid do they think their students are? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 9 months ago | (#46006647)

They have liberal arts at Yale, don't they? If so I'd suspect their liberal arts students aren't much better than anywhere else's at more-difficult-than-shopping stuff like that.

Re:How stupid do they think their students are? (2)

shipofgold (911683) | about 9 months ago | (#46006881)

I am guessing that the motivation has more to do with a couple of profs complaining that their courses were not being taken, or their reputations were demeaned because the averages sucked.

Certainly anybody can do the averages, but the time to gather the data and complete the calculation for every one of the courses a student would be considering is probably not something the average student will do. But if it is simply a click away, then all students will do it, and some professors will suffer as the ratings make them look bad.

ignorant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006477)

Direct infringement is not the only kind of Copyright infringement. There are such things as contributory and vicarious infringement. Just ask Grokster, Limewire, ISOhunt, etc...

Re:ignorant (3, Interesting)

mspohr (589790) | about 9 months ago | (#46006525)

This allows students to access the official Yale website and retrieve data that they officially have access to using their browser. I see nothing that could be called copyright infringement of any sort.
It does mangle up the presentation of the data into a more useful format but that is all done by the user on their browser.
Is there something that says that I don't have the right to view websites the way I want?
What about AdBlock, NoScript and Ghostery? They alter web pages under my control on my browser?
I get to view copyrighted web pages they way I want.

Re:ignorant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46007289)

op wasn't say it was copyright infringement, just that something isn't necessarily "kosher" just because the author of the plugin doesn't personally touch any of the work or Yale's servers.

Re:ignorant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46007371)

mangle up

Someone, please shoot me so I don't have to do it myself>.

how about beta.slashdot.org (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46006629)

So if someone Sean Hauflerizes beta.slashdot.org so that "it extends and improves the presentation of data", will slashdot or dice sue?

Waiting to see if Yale follows through with punishment. Though the difference is Yale has Sean's money, while dice doesn't have mine.

Headline roundup? (1)

ShaunC (203807) | about 9 months ago | (#46007599)

Could someone contribute an executive summary? All I can gather is that Yale had its own "ratemyprofessor" implementation, it wasn't very accurate, and some students made a better one which was then blocked by Yale's network. Surely it's not really that simple? Where is Yale's statement on all of this as I'd love to know the rationale for blocking the site.

Re:Headline roundup? (1)

stoborrobots (577882) | about 9 months ago | (#46008911)

Could someone contribute an executive summary?

Yale had it's own ratemyprofessor implementation, which only displayed each course's scores separately, never comparing them.

Some students decided that it would be good to see the scores side-by-side, so they built a site that allowed comparisons of the data (by scraping the original site).

Two years later, Yale decided that they didn't like the comparison site, and blocked its IP so it couldn't scrape the data.

Although the reason for Yale not liking the site is alleged to be because it makes comparisons easy, Yale is claiming that the block is for protection of their copyright material.

So someone with suitable skills built the equivalent functionality as the banned site into a browser extension, which therefore has no copyright implications (since the data is never scraped/served by another server), and is harder to block (since the server doesn't know which students are using the extension).

The idea is that if the only issue was one of copyright, the browser extension is fine. And if Yale challenges the browser extension, then they clearly have some agenda which is not about copyright.

Re:Headline roundup? (1)

dwater (72834) | about 9 months ago | (#46009165)

> then they clearly have some agenda which is not about copyright

you might make that assumption, but there is also the possibility that there is a separate (valid) issue with (the use of) the browser extension.

Re:Headline roundup? (1)

stoborrobots (577882) | about 9 months ago | (#46010367)

I think we're in agreement, where the issue you reference is the agenda I reference. There's every possibility that it's valid.

I guess you could be suggesting that there's an issue with the browser extension which does not apply to the infringing site - admittedly, that is a possiblity.

But if Yale goes after the browser extension, they have to give a reason for that. If it does not apply to site, then we simply repeat the process - create a method for browsing the Yale site in the manner we prefer, which does not trigger either of the known complaints, and then wait to see what complaint they bring against it, if any...

Would this happen at other universities? (2)

TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) | about 9 months ago | (#46008445)

Do most universities over-react as Yale did -- or did the guy possibly just choose the wrong school for someone that isn't content to wait around for someone else to do things for him?

When Iwas a Berkeley undergrad in the late 90s, students creating new services or improving existing ones (without breaking rules against cheating or similar, of course) at Berkeley seemed far more likely to be praised than punished. That might be because the school still had mostof its Internet services handled by EECS majors hired for work-study jobs rather than paying outside companies to do the work (as is common now), or because it openly wanted students that felt driven to use their abilities/talents to improve the world around them. I have no idea whether Cal is still like that, however.

Mr. Haufler, follow Yales desire or move (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46009191)

You wrote
"My intent behind Banned Bluebook is to demonstrate two points to Dean Miller and the Yale administration:

If Yale grants students access to data, the university does not have the right to specify exactly how students must view the data.
Censorship through IP blocking and Deep Packet Inspection is not only unethical, it’s also futile.
"

It is Yale data. They can tell you to F*ck Off.

Don't like it, think it is unfair,
Good.
Pick a StateU closer to your home and follow their rules.

Disciplinary hearing? (1)

russotto (537200) | about 9 months ago | (#46009291)

He'll be lucky if Yale's disciplinary board is the only kangaroo court he faces. If Yale is sufficiently annoyed they'll call in the Feds to go all Aaron Swartz on his ass.

Just stop giving out the data.... (1)

spinozaq (409589) | about 9 months ago | (#46009421)

Like they did before. All the professors told them it was a bad idea when the site was proposed. Someone should tell the people in charge of Yale that they have pretty smart professors. They would be more efficient and do a better job if they took their advice.

Students evaluate classes and professors in extremely bias ways. Usually based on well they did in the class. Class was too hard for some entitled rich teenager? I can see the review now... "This class sucks!" Do you remember college? Put yourself in the role of a professor. Would you really want your annual evaluation based on the thoughts of a bunch of immature emotional teenagers? The entire idea of using student evaluations is flawed. Sharing the data openly is just plain dumb.

"Punishment Committee?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46015961)

Seriously. Yale has a "Punishment Committee?" WTF do they do there? Run laps? Write things not the board a hundred times? Spankings?

I haven't been there but I had no idea they did kinky stuff like that. Does the Committee have an uncensored web site?

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