College students break the law

And if it isn't hashish or vandalism, its at least piracy.

But one pirate happens to be proud of it, and considers himself on the front line of the growing battle over copyright in the networked age. The question at hand is over Boston University's actions concerning a DMCA notice. I'll let Rich explain it.

A few days ago I went to check my BU webmail and noticed I had received a letter titled “COPYRIGHT VIOLATION: PLEASE READ IMMEDIATELY TO AVOID DISCIPLINARY ACTION”. I didn’t have time to deal with it, closed the window and figured I’d deal with it once spring break was over. When I get back to school, though, I find I can’t log in to my email, can’t look at my financial status, can’t look at my course materials. This makes it essentially impossible to continue as a Boston University student. I went to the IT office to get it sorted out . . . I’m ushered into the messy office of a man with slicked back gray hair, a police plaque on the wall and bottle of Johnny Walker Blue on his desk. There is a ten inch stack of papers with the blue RIAA logo on the top. The man is James H. Stone, Director, Consulting Services, High Technology Crime Investigator, and as he later claims, “DMCA Enforcer.”

Rich is a programming student and Creative Commons/open source/free information advocate, so it's not too surprising that when a course he is taking required proprietary software he pirated it instead of coughing up the cash.

In fact, I'm surprised that there isn't more of a problem with textbook piracy, just because college students are, after all, the demographic most like to steal. There should be a bunch of guys slinking around campus with stacks of photocopied texts at the start of every semester, especially if college students are the pirates that some people think we are. But we all know that $20 Xeroxed textbook doesn't exist. I wonder if anything should be inferred from that? Hrm, we're willing to pay extortion rates on textbooks, but we are killing the music industry. Something doesn't jive here.

Rich maintains his position is one of civil disobedience, and I empathize. In a world where lots of money is sunk into equating downloading MP3s with robbing banks (that's seriously in the comments section of Rich's blog entry, by the way) a student being unrepentant about downloading a personal copy of software his university has already paid for is met with a crowd of detractors calling him a thief and accusing him of stealing food out of software developers' mouths. I wonder if any of them read enough of his blog to realize that he's a developer and he knows exactly what's up.

I left a long, overly detailed comment about the ins and outs of copyright law (and why infringement and stealing are two very different things) and offered my support. He's pretty much getting a slap on the wrist, but his experience was noteworthy enough to get a mention on Boing Boing, which is blogging's version of a story on the front page of the New York Times.

Rich, just use open source. You don't have to deal with licenses and nobody will ever sue you for it. But Keep Fighting The Good Fight.

A Meeting with Jim Stone, DMCA Enforcer @ The New Freedom

posted by John @ 12:48 AM,


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