PSU should be infosocialist

Today, people at Penn State recieved the following message from our recently arrived provost. On Thu, 30 Jan 2014, Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas P. Jones wrote:

Dear Faculty and Staff,

I want to welcome each of you back this spring, as we plunge into another busy semester of activities, work, research, and scholarly achievement. I also want to acknowledge the many recent successes of our community and the excitement and energy we all share as 2014 commences. I am enthusiastic about the collaboration so integral to the efforts our community will be engaging in this year---but I also want to urge each of you (in your roles as teachers and mentors) to be vigilant in conveying security and policy information to the many students, friends, and colleagues you influence and inspire each day.

Penn State's copyright policy

As many of you know, Penn State is a strong proponent of copyright law and related protections for intellectual property rights. Unfortunately, some students, faculty, and staff who illegally download or distribute music, movies, and other materials may not be aware they are violating laws or policies. It is vital we increase awareness that copyright violation can have serious implications for future employment opportunities, as well as an individual's good standing at Penn State. To aid you in guiding your students (and colleagues) in understanding these concepts and choosing legal alternatives, I recommend three helpful websites:

  • Legal Media (http://legalmedia.psu.edu/)
  • Copyright Perspectives (http://copyright.psu.edu/)
  • Computer and Network Security Administrative Policy (http://guru.psu.edu/policies/AD20.html)

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Best wishes,

Nicholas P. Jones Executive Vice President and Provost

This is very disappointing to read. Some faculty members like myself have choosen employment at a public, educational instutition like penn state to promote the free and open access to knowledge and information so that we can all work efficiently and productively to make the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors bettter. Information is fundamentally different than property, and many people like me feel that the current state of America's intellectual property law is in bad need of reform. Advocating for blind adherence to controversial laws is in direct opposition to the critical analysis and thoughtful consideration we should be promoting here at Penn State. Such a conversation would work much better if included sites like Teaching copyright that help use better understand the balances needed in the lawful management of information.

In fact, I would argue that a university truly primarily concerned with the well-being of the citizens of it's state should be advocating infosocialism. Unfortunately, this seems a very limited part of the national conversation, other than the occasional example.

The fundamental point: Information is NOT property. Sharing information does not deprive the original holder of the ability to use that information. But taking property does deprive them of any benefit of the property -- it is a physical thing that is not trivially replicated. If we could give everybody land and homes the same way we share information, many of our worldly challenges would vanish.

Links of interest: