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Let me say it again: Get off our freedoms!

Chris Dawson, I understand you are concerned about your school system being sued by the RIAA in your post, “Let me say it again: Stop sharing music!” But spreading nonsensical fear and misinformation isn’t the way to do it.

It seems an odd choice to restrict academic openness and freedom for the sake of bad actions by bad actors or the support of old business models that need to evolve.  It also seems odd to use such strong words about sharing, which is usually a good thing in any context.  Sharing is not the same thing as stealing, which you wouldn’t know from Chris:

File sharing is bad.

One can almost hear Mr. Mackey, “File sharing is bad, mmkay?”  When he exhorts educators and parents to, “… stop this nonsense in its tracks,” Chris Dawson is parroting the FUD of the music industry.  Panic!  Gloom!  Doom!  Bankruptcy!

Where the rest of us come from, sharing is good.  Stealing may be bad, but so is a system that turns artists against fans.  A system that makes criminals out of the ignorant and well-meaning. A system that takes a simple idea to spur innovation and protect rights (copyright law) and turns it into a 150 year monopoly.

What apparently spurred Chris’ post is a new DOJ statement that millions of dollars in damages are justified for infringing on copyright via downloading stolen works and his concern that would end up with his school system in legal action:

However, the significance of this latest ruling can’t be emphasized enough to students and needs to be enforced vigorously on our networks. Want to download the latest Ubuntu ISO via torrents? Tough. Do it via http.

Some reminders of why freedom is more important than supporting dinosaur business models:

  • Sharing music is not illegal, nor are the technologies to share it.  Many artists are now distributing freely licensed works, such as under the CC licenses.  That plus the inexpensive methods of sharing via torrent network allows the artists to build a community of fans based on sharing.
  • Some legal downloads may only be available as a torrent.  For example, smaller projects or organizations with openly available and licensed content may not be able to pay the bandwidth costs to distribute themselves via HTTP.  Torrent lets the transit bandwidth costs be shared so none suffer, and also serves to reduce bottlenecks across the Internet by distributing load.
  • Restricting new technologies to protect existing businesses puts a damper on innovating and developing new business models.

If he were merely acting in a pragmatic protection of his school system, that is at least a fair and defensible position.  But blocking a technology because it can be used for illegal purposes is attacking a symptom and not anywhere near the problem.  Adopting the language and stance of the monopolistic doesn’t show pragmatism.

Chris, you had a teachable moment here.  You could have told concerned parents who read your blog something other than to fear file sharing and not trust their kids (as you apparently don’t trust your own.)  You could have taught people about this situation, how it fits in to this moment in history, and also how to protect themselves.

Kids understand nuanced arguments.  If they don’t know by now, they’ll soon learn the fallacy of whitewashing “Just Say No” campaigns.    We tell them, “Illegal drugs are bad, mmkay?” while smoking and drinking are legal and a leading cause of death, illness, and ripping families apart.  When you act like they won’t understand a nuanced argument, when you treat teenagers like five-year-olds, they lose respect for you.  They stop listening, which may be why you have to resort to restricting their legal freedoms in order to catch them at illegal activities.

Finally, if you are going to be a voice representing IT and education, it is rather unbalanced to dismiss academic freedom for fear of problematic copyright laws.  Chris seems to understand this in his last line, making it more sad that he couldn’t take a balanced position in his important role:

Perhaps the entertainment industry and copyright law will catch up with the Digital Revolution, but for now people are just being bankrupted.