ABOUT THE QUICK TAKE
Over 200 students were cited for sharing files illegally during the 2011-2012 academic year. This week, the Quick Take addresses the issue of how, or if, AU should enforce copyright laws.
By Scott Weathers
For students in college, downloading music illegally is convenient. It is perfectly appropriate that public universities receiving federal and state money should uphold the laws of their funders and punish file-sharing students.
American University is not a state school, though. Tuition bills pay for our professors, janitors and buildings. Federal money almost entirely comes in the form of grants, loans and scholarships to students, which are inconsistent and not always central to the functioning of our university. Because of this distinction, AU should not be forced to uphold federal laws, right?
Regardless of funding sources, AU should uphold anti-file sharing laws and punish the more than 200 students caught downloading music illegally. Just as AU ensures the immunization records of all students to protect our health, AU should punish students for file sharing to protect the financial health of musicians everywhere. It may not be the direct responsibility of AU to protect musicians, but this is a moral concern. If as a university, we have the ability to create a more moral world, we must do so, regardless of where our immediate responsibilities lie.
Don’t think that I say this with any moral superiority. I’ve illegally downloaded everything from Girl Talk albums to “Mean Girls” (I and II), “Simpsons” episodes to “Sex in the City” reruns.
I understand that spending money on culture is annoying, especially when it takes virtually no effort or skill to get it for free. Still, we have to recognize that we’re degrading our own culture in the process. Illegal file sharing may mean the death of a livelihood for artists too underrated for the radio and too local for a mass market. This type of music may not be something everyone values, but if it is (and I hope so), then we have to buy our music. I have little sympathy for musicians making millions, for whom an additional record sold means little. I deeply want the United States, and AU, to support our musicians enough to live through their work.
AU should be at the forefront of social justice everywhere. It isn’t logical for us to be so vocal, ethical and responsible in other aspects of our lives with the exception of our culture, specifically paying for music. Free lunches don’t exist, but we can make them a little cheaper for the musicians we love.
Scott Weathers is a freshman in College of Arts and Sciences.
By Taylor Kenkel
Anyone remember the email AU sent out way back in August titled “Annual Notice Concerning Peer-to-Peer File Sharing”? Maybe the 212 AU students alleged to have illegally shared files would have taken notice if it was called something like, “Quit File Sharing Right Meow!” or “Wanna Fork Out $600,000? Then Stop Sharing Files.”
Under the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, AU is required to take certain steps to prevent students from using peer-to-peer file sharing software and other venues deemed in violation of copyright laws. Seems noble enough — copyright, after all, is supposed to protect intellectual property and encourages creativity. Trouble is, it doesn’t work effectively in the digital age. By stifling access to file sharing, we’re dampening the potential of the Internet to serve as a revolutionary communication and knowledge platform.
Torrents can be used for perfectly legal purposes like downloading freeware and open-source programs. But when torrents or file sharing venues are used to download copyrighted material, web users risk fines like the $675,000 demanded of Boston University graduate Joel Tenenbaum in 2009. It’s a hefty price to pay, and most would think it a case of a thief getting his just desserts. But it’s not that simple, and the stealing analogy doesn’t exactly fit the bill.
In the past, paying the price for a record or a book meant that you were purchasing ownership of the physical item itself. Stealing was stuffing one of the store’s few records or books into your bag and hightailing it out of there before being caught. The act of stealing also limited the number of items available for sale in the shop.
The Internet muddies up that whole idea. Web users can access MP3s and PDFs online with little effort. No longer is there a need to quickly hide them in a bag or up your shirt. However, the oft-repeated stealing analogy doesn’t entirely work for online piracy, as a file is still available on the Internet in infinite supply once it is downloaded.
Why wouldn’t anyone share a good that has an infinite supply? Instead of facing the boundaries and costs of producing and shipping physical copies, creators can theoretically make their product available to anyone while avoiding a significant portion of the costs associated with creation. Making files available for download without charge online provides free publicity, spreading the message and increasing consumer willingness to purchase things like concert or event tickets and associated merchandise.
But all this is more on the creator’s end, and not much will change on their end until copyright laws change and publishing labels update policies. In the meantime, the next generation of lawmakers and creators alike should seriously consider new ways to adapt existing laws to the digital age without stifling creativity.
Unfortunately, it makes sense that AU and other schools would invest resources in preventing the free and open spread of information. By limiting access to widespread distribution of information AU helps lock knowledge in traditional silos of the University instead of allowing thoughts and culture to spread throughout the wireless realm. It’s just another case of the ivory tower of academia trying to slam the door on anyone who doesn’t pay tuition.
Taylor Kenkel is a senior in School of Communication.