Hat's-off to Ken (and treats on the tube)

I’ve written before about my belief that we’re inexorably entering — and some of us resisting — a paradigm shift in how humans think of information, imagination, creativity, freedom, and non-real property. So I was unexpectedly delighted to receive this letter to all of the university’s Division of Information Technology staff, from our new (heh heh) interim CIO, Ken Frazier. (Below the fold.)


Mark Luker, VP of Educause and former DoIT CIO, recently sent out an email message recommending a video produced by the Recording Rights Industry of America (RRIA) “educating students on the consequences of illegally downloading copyrighted materials…”

Educause Downloading Video

This is an important issue and we should know about RRIA’s perspective, but I respectfully disagree. I think that it is ineffective and bad public policy to threaten students with prison and quarter-million dollar fines for downloading music. We can find better ways to teach undergraduates to respect copyrights and promote creativity.

Just for fun, here’s a topical tune by Weird Al Yankovic:

“Don’t Download this Song”


I found quite a contrast in appeal and quality between the material at the two links. And rather shocked that Educause should endorse the idea that free things are mostly illegal!

While we’re discussing videos, here’s a treat for following this far. I hope you’ve all been engaged in the Net-neutrality discussions and are doing your part. You’ve probably heard about this powerful bozo Ted Stevens’ twisted view of the Internet. You’ll enjoy this excellent video or T shirt.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. As counterpoint to the RRIA position, I love “The Day of the Longtail” trailer:

  2. I do work with Educause and know that they oppose things like broadcast flag, but they feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m not surprised they’re pushing RIAA propoganda to show that they are making an effort on illegal downloading to bolster their argument that we don’t need more stringent laws.

  3. The RIAA is wrong, and appeasement won’t do.

    I can understand how Educause might feel that way, but I believe that making an effort to avoid more stringent laws is somewhat parallel to returning runaway slaves in order to avoid more stringent measures like the civil war. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that trying to make money off of non-real property is as evil as physically chaining and selling your fellow man. But I do mean to say that both cases are an attempt to shore up a doomed concept, and that in addition to being futile, the shoring up is causing actual harm.

    Changes in information technology – including media technology – have always brought changes in how we think about identity, freedom, creativity, and non-real property. It’s easy to think that our current morals evolved slowly and smoothly, but they didn’t. Libraries and moveable type, for example, ushered in radical paradigm shifts in how we thought of ourselves and of “property.”

    Paradigm shifts are rarely smooth and frequently not monotonic. With the current rate of change reflected in such events as the fall of Communism and the rise of international terrorism, it will not do to ignore the inexorable. It may be the job of the legal and political professions to slow this change down — as long as they first do no harm. But institutions that purport to be for and about education must not shirk their responsibility to study and lead this change.

    By the way, I don’t think that changes in our sense of identity, freedom, creativity, etc. fall out logically from advances in information technology. But again, these happen as what Kuhn called “paradigm shifts,” which happen rather quickly through social and not logical means. I do believe that while advances in IT don’t cause the ideas to be born, the IT advances DO cause the paradigm shift that represents a society’s adoption of the ideas.

    A possible consequence of this, that I’m not really prepared to argue, is it may be immaterial whether it is “right” or “wrong” to own non-real or non-scarce property, or whether such a thing can even be decided. What does matter under the hypothesis, is what society accepts. And society is very much voting with it’s day-to-day actions.

    Here’s just one example of how IT is puting the lie to one chestunt of “intellectual property.” It used to be taught that plagarism — distinct from fraud — was an intellectual crime committed by an unattributed close (but not exact) reuse of a prior utterance. Now Google shows us that everything we say has been said before. What we say and do is strongly influenced by what we have seen and heard. We do not have to be original to be of value, which is fortunate, because none of us are original. Trying to enforce anti-plagarism rules in the age of Google is absurd.

Comments are closed