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.

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