Sunday, June 3, 2007
A Disturbing Message
Some militant UCLA administrator recently put a desktop background with a vague and threatening message on all of the several hundred residence hall computers. Probably it was meant to intimidate potential pirates, but it comes off as pretty ridiculous.
"Do not download copyrighted music, movies, and software. Most material is copyrighted. Obtaining or offering such material in violations of U.S. Copyright Law may result in university disciplinary action and may be punishable with civil and criminal penalties including prison time and money damages."
This paragraph has two parts-- the imperative command at the beginning, further qualified by the second sentence, is the meat of it. The rest is standard RIAA hellfire and brimstone. In the imperative bit, we're told not to download copyrighted media. Note the absence of the words "illegal" or "pirated." Apparently, downloading copyrighted material is a sin under any circumstances. You'll be punished only if your downloading is illegal, but you ought not to download any copyrighted material at all.
This command is inane, and can't possibly be followed. A student who watches a video lecture has downloaded a copyrighted movie-- a student who gets a site licensed copy of Maple or MATlab has downloaded copyrighted software. Neither have broken the law, but they have violated what seems to be UCLA policy. It's so silly that it makes you think the author was confused-- but no! He fully understands the scope of his command. "Most material is copyrighted" he tells us.
In other words, he isn't using "copyrighted" as a synonym for "copyrighted and restricted to paying customers, where you aren't a customer" because most material on the internet doesn't fall into that category-- it is "copyrighted" only implicitly, and can be freely downloaded. He must really mean that we aren't allowed to view copyrighted content at all, no matter what. Luckily, the policy covers only "music, movies, and software," else we'd be restricted to Wikipedia and a few other CC sites. The warning doesn't make clear whether Flash videos are defined as "software." Hopefully they aren't-- ucla.edu contains a copyrighted flash video that downloads automatically.