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Is It Legal to Record Your Teachers or Professors?

Try as we might, even the most attentive students can miss an important point during a class or lecture. Or you might be a parent worried about what a teacher is saying or doing in your child's classroom. Now that digital recorders are fairly small and inexpensive, and every cell phone has a sound recording option, it would seem this problem is easily fixed by just recording the teacher or professor, and then replaying it later.

As it turns out, however, many states have laws prohibiting recording someone without their consent. Does this extend to teachers and classrooms?

Wiretap Laws

No, you're not tapping someone's phone, but the same laws generally apply to recording oral communications. While federal law allows for recordings as long as one party to the conversation consents (known as "one-party consent"), several states have stricter recording laws. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require every party to a conversation to consent to recording (known as "two-party consent").

Most states make illegal recordings a felony. For instance Florida's wiretap law makes illegal recordings a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

If you live in a one-party consent state, you're probably OK recording a teacher or professor as long as you are present in the class, since you're a party to the conversation and given your consent to be recording. If you're in a two-party consent state, or are placing a secret recorder on your child, things may get a little trickier.

Exceptions to the Rule

The easiest way to deal with laws against secret recordings is to make them not secret. If you'd like to record a professor's lecture, you can ask for permission. Most professors allow recording and some even record lectures themselves and make the video or audio available.

If you're being more surreptitious with your recordings, the law gets a little fuzzier, and whether the recording is legal may depend on where you live. While Florida is a two-party consent state, courts don't apply the law to recordings made in a party's place of business. Therefore, even secret classroom recordings without a teacher's consent were found to not be illegal.

So before recording a teacher or professor for any reason, you may want to check with them first, or consult with an experienced attorney.

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