Panel Debates File-Sharing

Sitting under a banner emblazoned with the words “Digital Freedom,” NBC Universal representative David E. Green advocated continued harsh punishments for the reproduction of copyrighted media, responding to criticism from consumer rights and intellectual freedom activists at a panel on Wednesday.

About 35 students from the College and Harvard Law School (HLS) gathered in Boylston Hall to hear Green, joined by Jason D. Oxman, vice president of communications at the Consumer Electronics Association, and legal scholar Wendy M. Seltzer ’96. The panelists sparred over issues including copyright law, digital rights management, and the oversight of student file-sharing practices.

The event was co-sponsored by the Digital Freedom Campaign, a national consumer rights organization, and Harvard College Free Culture, a student group focused on technology and intellectual freedom.

Both Oxman and Seltzer, a visiting fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, countered Green by arguing that consumers should be able to distribute and reproduce legally acquired media content without fear of prosecution.

“We want to preserve the incentives that copyright law sets up, but it shouldn’t be by blocking reproduction at every place that it might happen,” Seltzer said.

“Regulation can’t tell the difference between academic, creative sharing, and file-sharing to get around purchasing,” she added.

Green was quick to respond to the argument that regulation impinges on academic freedom.

“I can see I’m being set up as the fall guy here,” Green said. “We lose 44 percent of what we lose through piracy on college campuses. There is no academic freedom in downloading a copy of the ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ while it’s out in theaters.”

These issues have resurfaced in the national media this fall, with the Recording Industry Association of America sending out a new wave of pre-litigation letters to students at several universities, including to MIT and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Harvard students have not yet received any letters.

Last week the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that would require colleges to actively monitor and stop student use of university bandwidth to engage in illegal file-sharing.

Steve Lin ’08, who described himself as a music enthusiast “on the fringes of the debate,” said he enjoyed the event but wished that the talk had been more pragmatic.

“There’s a lot of discussion of how it is now,” Lin said, adding that there needs to be more creative ways of “actually changing business models and underlying market forces.”