Monday, December 13, 2004

Anti-Semitism Anti-File Sharing At Columbia. Brewing Controversy?

OMFG! Julia Stiles' iTunes playlist! I got an e-mail periodically that's sent as mass e-mail (SPAM?) to all GSAS Columbia grad students from a John Axcelson, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. I usually take a quick gander at what he sends but generally it goes to trash. Today, I got received the following email. Today I saw something of slight interest from him. The subject said, "Intellectual Honesty: Plagiarism, Copyright..." I opened it up to see that the full subject actually said, "Intellectual Honesty: Plagiarism, Copyright, and File-sharing." Wait, file-sharing is just like plagiarism? The following will bore 99 percent of ya'll so you can stop reading now. For the rest of ya'll (Kaizar...and who have some interest in the current file-sharing political and legal debate, continue reading. The e-mail Axcelson is below:
GSAS Students: Intellectual honesty is the foundation of our academic lives. Original thought and proper credit for others' work is central to learning and teaching. Like plagiarism, violation of copyright is a serious breach of the commitment to intellectual integrity that you made when you came to Columbia. You each should have received a letter over the summer from the Provost and General Counsel alerting you to your responsibilities under copyright law when using Columbia’s computer systems and network. As indicated in that letter, the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and Morpheus to make and share copies of copyrighted music and movies is a violation of copyright law and University policy. Such violations are a matter of student conduct and will be dealt with by my office as a disciplinary matter. Over the past academic year the University has received hundreds of verified allegations of the illegal possession and distribution of copyrighted materials over the Columbia network. Each student involved has received a letter from his or her Dean, a letter that is placed in the student's file until graduation. Students committing a repeat violation will be subjected to a disciplinary hearing, where the recommended penalty is probation. Before you install Kazaa or any other file-sharing software, here are some facts from the University’s lawyers and from Academic Information Systems about copyright law in general and peer-to-peer file-sharing in particular: Copyright Law •Copyright protection covers any original work of authorship that is fixed in some tangible medium of expression •A work is protected from the moment it is created, •A work does not have to contain a copyright notice to qualify for protection. •Virtually any work you find whether software, music, videos, or email; whether on the Internet, a CD, DVD, or tape, is almost certainly protected by copyright. •While there are exceptions under the law that allow copying or distribution of copyrighted work, the use of file-sharing software to share copyrighted music and movies, without permission, would virtually never qualify for an exception. Peer-to-peer file-sharing Copyright owners scan our network every day for unlawful use of their works. •The University must take action upon receiving a complaint. •You can be held legally liable if you have downloaded music, movies or other files without permission from the copyright owner. •Students here and at other universities have been sued and forced to pay damages. •The Recording Industry Association of America has filed hundreds of lawsuits against individual college students based on its scans of university networks, and promises to increase its enforcement actions. The Motion Picture Association of America has announced that it will follow suit with its own lawsuits against students. Please see for more on copyright and the University's compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. See for complete information on the University's Computer and Network Use Policy Whether a citizen, resident, or visitor in the United States, you are personally responsible for abiding by the law. As a member of the University community, you are equally responsible for adhering to the University's policies for the network and the use of other online and computing resources, including respect for copyright. -John Axcelson
After reading this, I was kinda pissed off. I just got lectured and threatened - albeit not directly - about an issue that is FAR from being concretely decided or resolved. And an issue that I am most definitely not on the side of the music and movie industry. Also I thought it was disingenuous on his part in grouping that with both plagiarism and copyright. But then I realized I had take-home final (five pages) that was due in two hours, so I deleted it and forget about it. When i next checked my e-mail I was surprised to see a mass e-mailed response but reading the response made me glad that the first e-mail was called out. Check it:
Dear Dean Axcelson, Thank you for your message regarding file-sharing and copyright law. As a student of GSAS, may I express my astonishment that you would group these topics, which are the focus of your e-mail, under the heading of "intellectual honesty", for plagiarism appears as only an accessory concern of yours. Yet if you are going to approach the public dissemination of information via the internet as a properly "academic" concern, you should do more than note in passing that "there are exceptions under the law that allow [for the] copying or distribution of copyrighted work." These exceptions, which fall under the doctrine of "fair use", should not be so rapidly marginalized, as their importance to our ability to pursue research and scholarship is immense. I believe that by acquiescing to the closed interpretation of copyright law that the RIAA and MPAA self-interestedly promote and advocate, the University will only harm its long-term interests. We live in a time where evolving technologies are challenging our received opinions about property. The very means through which our culture is advanced will be affected by how we resolve these issues. It is far from clear that the academe, as the classical locus of learning and instruction, should so readily bow to a policy that truly chills our use of digital avenues of communication. Relevant distinctions should be made. Such an absolute policy against file-sharing as you outline below can only weaken our position as "philosophoi" in the years ahead. Yours sincerely, David Bornstein Department of Art History and Archaeology
Hear, Hear. And then another GSAS student had something to add:
Dear Mr. Axcelson and fellow GSAS members, I also felt obliged to raise my voice on how much I agree with the stance of David on this issue. If anything, intellectual honesty ought to put more emphasis on freedom of communication than interests of parties that are so unconnected to academic life. I believe any objective administrative approach would be to first focus on safeguarding its users privacy and ensuring their freedom of speech than to blindly enforce a set of rules. Yours, Alp ATICI
And then another:
Dear Colleagues, I want to add my voice to the protests and concerns already elaborated below. Adriana Garriga Lopez Anthropology Dept.
The voice of the community will be heard!!...Or maybe not:
Dear David, Alp, Adriana, everyone and their mother, I want people to just email Dean Axcelson with their opinions and not the entire community. Perry Garvin Art History Department
And then that sweet piece of ass I like to call free speech said, "Ah, hell NO. HELL NO!"...:
Dear All, As far as I am concerned I am glad to know what my fellow members of GSAS have to say about this topic. I guess it is called free speech. Sincerely, Nicola Chiara GSAS Student
I have be a massive fucking dork (Confirmed) to find these e-mail exchanges entertaining...which I did. Immensely. Stay tuned for this developing story.
Hey I am one of the people whose emails you quote here. Found your blog while "googling" myself. I was stoked about this exchange as well and highly amused. Nice to find your cool blog. You can check me out too. Fair is fair.
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