STAFF EDITORIAL: Don’t let the “creative community” censor us!

As students, many of whom will soon be making a living through music, we should recognize the importance of honesty in terms of intellectual property, specifically abuse of Internet downloading privileges.But universities, specifically Lawrence and the Associated Colleges of the Midwest as a whole, should resist recent efforts by government agencies and Hollywood moguls to hold educational institutions legally responsible for illegal downloads.

A letter sent by “representatives of America’s creative community” to more than 2,300 colleges last week condemns “peer 2 peer” (P2P) file trading technology, and virtually accuses universities whose webspace allows such trading as being accessories to theft.

The representatives, who were echoed by a number of government regulators at a conference last Friday at the University of Texas in Austin, make a number of compelling and reasonable claims for the role of the university in educating students about copyright law.

But no university should be strong-armed into censorship. The measures called for by the “creative community” place universities in a law-enforcement role that could very well scare many institutions dangerously far down the slippery slope of monitoring websites and invading students’ privacy.

The letter mailed to the colleges calls on each school to:

ú Inform students of their moral and legal responsibilities to respect the rights of copyright owners

ú Specify what practices are, and are not, acceptable on the school’s network

ú Monitor compliance

ú Impose effective remedies against violators

We encourage Lawrence University to take the lead in promoting a strong voice condemning theft, and to articulate as clearly as possible its acceptable use policy. However, no educational institution should be contracted as a watchdog for a record company or a movie studio.

In this age of high CD prices, college budgets, availability of pirated material, and easy access to burners, it often seems regrettably easy—and justifiable—to download a copy of a popular movie, like Lord of the Rings, or bootleg a Dave Matthews CD.

LU, and all universities, should do their best to instill in students a sense of conscience and honor that goes beyond the dismal reality of college budgets.

To combat academic honesty, Lawrence believes in cultivating an academic conscience; the peer-driven Honor Code is much more helpful in developing well-rounded, honest students than installing hidden cameras in each classroom.

The “creative community” is right to be upset. But rather than engaging in near-censorship, how much more effective would a series of lectures be, perhaps from struggling artists, who can tell us clearly the effect that intellectual theft has on their career?

Students and institutions need to make some tough ethical choices soon about Internet file sharing. For students, the choice comes down to a choice between ripping off an artist and not being able to afford to broaden cultural horizons.

Universities must find a path between the McCarthyistic strong-arming of the entertainment industry and complete apathy, a path that recognizes the sovereignty and nobility of the artistic crafts, and turns its education energies toward respecting those works.

We hope that Lawrence and the ACM will be vocal in their opposition to the “creative community’s” attempt to weasel into our webspace.