Colleges, Computers and Copyright

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Harvard undergrad Derek Slater posted a copy of the Diebold memos to his weblog, on a Harvard server and received a cease and desist notice from Diebold. Harvard policy is to terminate the network access of any student who is a "repeat offender" of copyright infringing activities. Slater challenged the "first strike":

While I greatly appreciate the University's appropriate response and the effort it took to discuss this matter with me, I must say that my appeals process is cause for concern. I say my process because there is no official appeals process.  Here's how the system currently works: First, the University sends a letter telling the student that access has been cut off and to respond within five days.  The University provides minimal information about potential defenses.  Like Brown, the University also suggests that the infringing material must be deleted, regardless of the infringing act.  When you assert your intention to submit a defense, the University computer security staff tells you that it will forward on whatever you provide. Before hand, you have no idea who to contact directly; I only knew to contact the general counsel because my boss, John Palfrey, helped me.  From here, it's a black box - no clear standard of review, no official way of getting a hearing, no required or recommended format for defenses.

Without a legal background and the incredible support of the Berkman Center and the EFF, I doubt I would have known the right people to contact and the right way to approach this.  Most students would be in a severely disadvantaged position.

This is not only an issue with university students dealing with DMCA-related issues, but with the general public when dealing with copyright-related claims. This ties in with the Mazzone piece which I posted a link to previously, in which he describes how corporations make overly broad claims about the extent of their copyright protection. Many people are unaware of the extent of copyright law and possible liability.

While Slater was dealing with a university policy, a similar situation may happen with a private ISP or a workplace: an internet user is accused of a copyright violation and either the user's account may be closed prematurely, or the user may modify his behavior or even pay a settlement in lieu of having to deal with lawyers.

This is why it is important to have good resources explaining the basics of copyright available on the web. [Here would be a good place for some examples.] Also, to show people that copyright lawyers are people, too. [Law school copyright/cyberlaw-related clinics?] but, what about the socio-economic divide-- are clinical programs reluctant to provide these services because they would prefer to focus on lower-income citizens, while the average income of people with internet access is higher than average?

1 Comment

I;m intersented on Computeing and i will like to go to america
and to end the american colleges for computing.



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