As John Holt has perhaps best noted, schools are filled with the fear of failure. Stanley Milgram’s life has a special relevance on this subject. On the one hand, he was quite harsh in telling people plainly that they are wrong — an action which likely increases fear of failure — on the other, his most famous experiment deplored the kinds of fear of failure that lead people do do things they don’t want.

Holt, as I recall, suggests that the best thing to do is not to tell kids whether they are right or wrong, but let them figure out for themselves and build up their self-confidence. But for all my experience in this, I am still filled with fear of failure — even in class. In sociology, a subject which I love and am pretty well-acquainted with, I fret about raising my hand in class to answer a question. On the rare occasion when I do and am called on, I stumble over my words in a way very different from even when I am discussing the same issues one-on-one with the teacher. Similarly, here, in sociology section, I feel a sort of oppressive force filling the air of the room, keeping me from moving my arm up or opening my mouth.

And this is all educational — I haven’t even gotten to TGIQ yet. It’s odd, when I think of her I can’t remember what her face looks like. In my memory it’s as if her face is so luminous that it’s washed out, it’s just a big bright spot you can’t look directly at. Perhaps this is because recognizing it has been taken over by some other portion of the brain?

Today in sociology class we’re talking about the ethics of experiment. Not Milgram, but Zimbardo and his prison experiment. (The teacher apparently went to the same talk.) Oh my! In walks TGIQ — she’s wearing a new blue jean jacket and I still can’t really look at her face, but my heart clearly knows it’s her. And anyway, it must be her because she’s late, as usual. I had no idea she was in section with me; section has met before, perhaps that’s why she seems somewhat familiar.

She sits down on the far side from me, away from the group, and pulls out her laptop. At one point she adds a comment to the discussion. Her voice, like her face, is only partly received — it sounds like a crackly low-bandwidth RealAudio stream.

The other fear of failing, of course, comes up in these sorts of situations. Under the circumstances, it’s interesting to note that after Zimbardo finished the experiment he changed course. Perhaps distressed by what he had done, he looked for ways he could free people instead of imprisoning them. He hit upon the idea of shyness, which he sees as a sort of self-imprisonment, and started the Stanford Shyness Clinic to work on helping people.

Back in the class, I’m not really dressed so I avoid talking to TGIQ. She sits quietly with her laptop as everyone exits the class.

The name thing is getting worse — now they’re saying my full name (“Hey Aaron Swartz!” “Uh, hey”). When will the escalation end?

I decide to sit in on a meeting of the Stanford Morning Action Collective (SMAC) who plan to protest after the election. It’s all girls at first, although a couple guys appear later. Perhaps this is because the planner is a girl and all her friends are girls?

They talk about permits and arrestability and jail solidarity and recounts and legal hotlines and so on. I have to leave early to get to my next event…

Yesterday signs started appearing around the dorm reading:

What the f*** is Fair Use?

an advertising a meeting about copyrights with a member of the Office of General Counsel. I decide to attend.

There’s a pretty small turnout; only like 7 people, mostly dorm staff, even though there are free ice cream floats. The guest is Lauren Schoenthaler. She opens with a self-deprecating joke about how she once called eDonkey GreenDonkey and a kid said this discredited her to speak on this subject.

“I don’t actually fileshare,” she admits, which seems like a bizarre concession from someone here to talk about its evils. She tells us how everything is copyrighted and while there is some limited provision for fair use, it exists mostly in the educational setting. She gives the example of a term paper with a Peanuts cartoon. Including it in the term paper is OK; putting that same term paper on the Web with the cartoon is not. (That doesn’t sound quite right to me.)

She gripes a little about a 2005 state law making filesharing a crime, which she thinks is unnecessary. But her real purpose is to “get the word out on the DMCA”. She claims the DMCA says you can’t fileshare and, furthermore, permits copyright holders to track the Internet for people sharing. (Neither of these are true. When contacted by email, Ms. Schoenthqler defended the statement by saying that while it is “less than precise” but communicates the “big picture”. This seems an odd position for a lawyer.)

Statutory fines for copyright sharing are stiff, she notes. If you share a TV show with just ten people, you’re on the hook for $1.5M. And several Stanford students have already been sued for similar amounts!

That’s why they’ve instituted the three-strikes policy here. The first time they get a DMCA complaint about filesharing, they send you a mean letter. The second time, they tell your dorm leader or something. The third time, they take away your Internet connection and file a complaint in student court. She talks about how she’s had to deal with broken students and irate parents. “I hate this part of my job,” she says, although she later admits she helped come up with the policy and think it’s just. But now she simply says “I don’t actually disagree” with complaints about “how harsh this law is” — but it’s the law.

“A lot of people tell me, ‘Hey, where’s the morality in all this?’”. She mentions a South Park episode where they note that filesharing can have terrible consequences, among them Britney Spears having to fly a Gulfstream 4 instead of a Gulfstream 5. For her part, though, she thinks we “lost the ability to talk about the morality” we let the government off the hook for photocopying journal articles and made the VCR legal just because the Supreme Court didn’t want to make millions of Americans into criminals. And “why isn’t [TiVo] against the law?!” This is apparently supposed to let us know she feels our pain.

She explains that the reason VCRs are legal is because the Home Recording Act requires that all VHS manufacturers pay a small fee to the copyright holder. (This is wrong. Ms. Schoenthaler apologized for the imprecision.)

But filesharing isn’t just bad for you, it’s also bad for everyone else because you’re “putting the school up for liability” and even your tuition won’t pay $1.5M fines. (This is almost surely false; the whole point of the draconian “take it out on the student” policy is that it protects the university from such fines.) If you want to change the law, she says, more power to you — and go talk to Larry Lessig who’s right here on campus.

Until then, you’re not only hurting yourself and the school, you’re also setting up other kids. Some kids, she says, tell her that they’re all safe because they only download, not upload. But such kids are going to make the “schlub at another school” who’s uploading to them get caught and fined. Do they really want that on their conscience? (This is completely wrong. Ms. Schoenthaler maintains that it “seems sketchy to me. But, you don’t have to agree with my reasoning.”)

If threats to you, your school, and someone like you don’t work, there’s always the time-honored trick of threatening future-you. Yes, you might develop some copyrighted works in the future — we do live in the Information Society after all — and how would you feel if you had to go after the people filesharing your stuff when you used to be a filesharer yourself? (Um, not too bad?) Oh, and if you ever do find yourself on the other side, she says to email her (presumably so she can use you as an example).

The increasing number of people affected, she says, will create an “impetus” in the courts towards even harsher punishments for copyright violators, so don’t think you’re going to get out of this by waiting.

During the question-and-answer period some kids throw out hypothetical examples: what if I took a picture of my friend and morphed it? Oh, you can’t do that, she says — your friend might have a Privacy Act claim against you. Is it OK to have my favorite quotes on a website? No; quotes are OK in a term paper because that’s educational but on the Web you should probably just link to the page the quote is from instead of copying the words. (This is a scary world.) Or you can always ask the author…

Why are the penalties so harsh?, I ask. She says that she thinks it’s a fair system — other schools only give you two strikes. And the Daily had an editorial supporting it! (Sure enough, the Daily did have an error-ridden editorial saying that if the law required Stanford to terminate file sharers, well gee it sure is nice they at least gave them some strikes.) What if all three DMCA notices come at the same time? Do you get disconnected from the Internet without even a chance to mend your ways? It’s never happened — two notices at once, but not three.

Finally, is there any way to challenge one of the strikes? After all, there’s zero verification or rules about these DMCA notices — anyone can send one without any evidence. Nope, the only way you can get rid of one is by convincing Stanford (which apparently thinks it’s on the hook for $150,000 if they make a mistake) or the copyright holder (who really couldn’t care less about you) that they screwed up. Comforting.

posted November 05, 2004 03:27 PM (Education) (2 comments) #


Stanford: Day 42
Stanford: Day 43
November Surprise: The Votemaster is Andrew Tanenbaum
Money and Politics
The Facts About Money and Politics
Stanford: Day 45
Stanford: Day 46
Stanford: Day 47
David Boies on the Dispensation of Justice
Stanford: Day 48
Amy Goodman (and guests) on the Election


Interestingly, there was a Home Recording Act proposed that would have done what the speaker claimed it did. It just died in Congress in the early 1980s. That’s part of what Jack Valenti was talking about when he said the VCR was like the Boston Strangler. The speaker might have been thinking of the Audio Home Recording Act, which explicitly limits itself to a certain subcategory of “Digital Audio Recording Devices” (which, the courts have confirmed, turns out not to reach all the devices that actually record digital audio, or that process digital audio recordings). The AHRA did not make any device legal that was previously illegal, at least in the view of most everybody but the recording industries.

posted by Seth Schoen at November 5, 2004 04:11 PM #

I’m an RCC at Stanford, and Ms. Schoenthaler spoke to us during our training too. I was very disappointed that she was so unqualified to answer questions about both the legal and technological aspects of this issue. I think she may have made the eDonkey mistake when speaking to us (there was someone who made a eDonkey-name-related mistake during the training, but we had other people talk about this too).

I agree that the process for arguing that the DMCA claim is not justified is quite unfair and should clearly be changed. Unfortunately, people are stupid.

posted by Dean at November 6, 2004 04:25 PM #

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