• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


Chicken and Egg

The copyright conundrum of higher education.

October 21, 2013

The higher education community, including its associations, has a chicken and an egg conundrum with respect to major political policy issues. Copyright is one of them, and perhaps one of the most significant. 

As both producers and consumers of "intellectual property," higher education leadership tends to play a wary game when it comes to the national policy scene.  To be sure, it will -- and darn well should -- defend itself against legal attacks: Georgia State and Hathi Trust are examples.  But caught in that conundrum, the community only reacts.  With few exceptions -- Professor Samuelson's Center at Berkeley for example, or the Stanford Law Clinic and Harvard’s Berkman Center, high education does not lead.  Moreover, as critically important as those Centers and Clinics are, they do not represent One Dupont Circle.

A great deal of conversation these days floats around the value of a liberal arts education and how it can withstand the slings and arrows of everything from price of college to MOOCs. Neither of those factors will be its death knell.  Failure to model what is imparted from such an education: critical thinking, citizenship, leadership, will, however.

Those subtle failures to model what higher education in the main preaches reminds me of what my older cousins railed against their parents over the Vietnam War.  I was just a little too young to be on the front lines of that issue.  But I remember the feeling well.  Sometimes I thought my cousins histrionic … until one of them was drafted.  And sometimes I thought my aunts and uncles were tone deaf and unthinking about their loyalties forged -- and stuck -- in the Second World War.  But what came through loud and clear was the battle cry of “hypocrisy.”  It sounds so adolescent to me now, but there must be some reason why it harkens.

Get a spine, higher education.  You can lead on this issue!  You should lead this issue to reasonable legislative reform.  Get off the ropes, higher education, and take a swing.  We need a leader.  Who will be first?   Who’s not afraid to speak out loudly, clearly and for balanced copyright laws?  To whom will we look and say, that’s what a liberal arts education is for, its value worth more than every penny spent in its name.  I can’t wait to send my second-born, college-bound son to that institution where I believe he will be sure to learn something that will give his life passion, direction and commitment.  And with such a demonstration of leadership, many of us will remember why we chose this community to live out our career lives in the first place.  It is precisely because we are producers and consumers of "intellectual property" that we should lead reform.



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