Universities need to get the message

Siva posted NYU’s copyright message to it’s members. It starts being confusing early on.

The University’s stance on this issue is simple: downloading copyrighted material without permission is illegal, and you should not do it. You should also not use your computer to distribute copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder.

Of course, we know better than. I’m sure the people at NYU know better than that as well, and I sincerely doubt that this message reflects their stance, particularly when it comes to scholarship. There are most certainly situations in which downloading copyrighted material without permission is legal, and using your computer to distribute copyrighted material without permission is legal. I’m doing so right now by posting that snippet. In attempting to get out a message, they’re oversimplifying copyright to the point to absurdity. Many universities do so. In this letter they go on to make analogies to plagiarism and theft, and in the process muddling the message as well as oversimplifying (not that it can’t be done, but it’s not done well here). They also make absolute implications- like sharing material with friends for free is illegal. That’s certainly arguable, and I’m sure they know that as well. These are practices that makes statements like this easy for students that know better to dismiss the views of their university entirely.

Universities need to teach students about copyright. That’s something that a lot of people agree on. One page emails, or a web page on file sharing, or having students sign a statement are not going to do it.

When it comes to copyright, who speaks for the everyday person?

Really, we know that when laws are made and cases brought to court, certain groups of people are more equal than others. When access = money, that’s the kind of thing that’s bound to occur. Jason Fry asks some important questions in the Wall Street Journal,

Who speaks for us when these laws are made and these cases come before judges? Why are we reduced to hoping the interests of a cable company, radio conglomerate or Internet giant temporarily align with our own? How much more of this must we endure before some fairness is restored? And when that day finally arrives — if it does at all — what will we have lost?

And really, how do we know what we lost?

There have been some responses from groups of people getting together in the form of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and EFF. What they do is impressive, but it’s not enough by itself. We need people in the legislature and in the courts really critically evaluating the public interest along with the other things they examine.

The Comedy of Copyright

Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane’s animated series shown on Fox, often uses references from pop culture through the years. Really, that’s an understatement. (Some Favorites: He-man riding off, Apache Chief from Superfriends setting Peter’s dish antenna, Stewie’s “Rocket Man”, “That’s one to grow on,” and Cobra Commander as the FCC Chairman. Truly, a child of the 80s.) Naturally, I was expecting the show to be sued at some point. The question was- who would it be?

The Answer? Carol Burnett.

From the Smoking Gun,  Carol Burnett v. “Family Guy.”