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Bostonia: The Alumni Magazine of Boston University

Fall 2008

Letters To The Editor

Bostonia welcomes readers’ reactions and encourages expressions of opinion,
pro and con. Submit your letter below.

Copyright Wrongs

I feel compelled to respond to “The Sound and the Fury” (“Perspectives,” Summer 2008). The simple fact is that today’s generation, having grown up with digital media, has little regard for intellectual property.

The Internet surely has wonderful uses and I don’t want to sound like some kind of Luddite who calls for its demise. I am a habitual user of this tool for communication, entertainment, and information, and I constantly marvel at its resources. However, Internet piracy is just that: stealing. The students at BU and elsewhere are undeniably aware of the law, and surely, if they can score satisfactorily on their SATs to earn entrance at BU, they can read the copyright warning on every digital product passing through their fingers.

The simple fact is that today’s generation, which has grown up with digital media, has little or no regard for intellectual property. It’s because of misinformed and biased articles that these kids are confused by some legal and moral ambiguity in the digital age. The frightening conclusion coming from your article generally follows the notion that if you can’t prove that I did it, then it’s all right.

You are correct that suing students is not the cure. But to accept Internet piracy as a normative behavior is a slippery slope that should be more carefully examined.

I am a graduate of the College of Fine Arts. After years of practice, training, a fine education from BU, and dedication to my craft, I was able to enter the ranks of working studio musicians for the record and television industries. Today, I receive the benefits from copyright protection laws in the form of royalties for the work I have done over the years. The musicians, composers, arrangers, lyricists, and producers have clear and unambiguous title to their work. Aside from receiving pay for performing and recording, all recording artists share in the broadcast, distribution, and sale of their work through royalty agreements.

What the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been doing is to try to protect these laws and to stop the illegal distribution of their member artist’s property. Since the 1990’s, however, with the force of the digital age, these copyright laws and a presence of mind have been obfuscated, as the Internet has heralded an alleged free and open network. This “freedom,” however, was never meant to include the reproduction and unlawful distribution of copyright protected material.

In your article, you cite two BU professors who contend that the RIAA enforcement methods are inexact or counterproductive and that copyright laws themselves are out of sync with the realities of computer technology. Rather than go into the merits of the RIAA legal proceedings, it is far more productive to address the argument with direct challenges to their ill-conceived beliefs.

Should one of these professors toil for years to write a book for the general public, or (God forbid) an overpriced college text for which they received compensation, they would have pride of ownership, copyright protection, and a potential income stream from the sale and reprinting of their opus. Technology today, however, allows even the most novice users to scan material and distribute it on the Internet, thus depriving the author of any financial claim. Why not? You can’t prove that the copy wasn’t legally purchased, and you probably can’t prove who made it available on the Net.

Another argument often used by “file sharers” (pirates) is that the music industry is just greedy, and all those execs going to clubs in private jets and Lincoln Town Cars don’t deserve the money anyway. This logic unfortunately suffers from the same moral hazard that most digital media pirates embrace: ultimately that they (the artists and producers) don’t deserve the money — a philosophy that would have surely pleased Chairman Mao in his great leap forward.

As you correctly note in your article, the RIAA has been trying to enforce intellectual property laws vigorously since the Napster case hit the newsstands. Every computer user since then has clearly heard that file sharing and swapping is illegal. Major recording artists have put out public service announcements on television and radio to warn abusers that unauthorized distribution of their material is illegal. Thus, every Robin Hood of the net who posts their catalogue of copywritten music should be aware of the consequences and be held accountable. They must be reminded that what is mine is mine, and if you steal it from me, I should use whatever legal resource available to stop you from unauthorized distribution and recover any loss of income. The RIAA has a clear legal imperative to enforce these copyright laws and prosecute violators of them with vigor. I therefore counter [College of Arts ∓ Sciences computer science professor] Leo Reyzin’s claims and say that the RIAA’s actions are exact, legitimate, and ultimately necessary considering the realities of computer technology today.

Your article further argues that the record industry’s behavior is only going to advance newer technology by these digital outlaws to obscure detection. So I guess the logic would follow that by putting RFD tags on CDs to prevent shoplifting, record stores are just inviting newer technology to steal music. Why can’t the fine educators at BU turn this issue around, promote honesty, and teach the basics of finance and personal responsibility to its student body? The only “weird position” it would put BU educators in is to inform all students that while may be able to distribute copywritten material using undetectable technology today, you face a severe and high-profile punishment if and when you are caught.

The ultimate fallacy in your article addresses a recent BU panel discussion on digital copyrights, where we learn “the main purpose of a computer is to copy and move information from place to place.” This argument further destroys the core concepts for intellectual property and is the reason why today you can go to any corner kiosk in China, where intellectual property rights are absent, and find unauthorized copies of products made by Microsoft, Adobe, Nike, or even the Boston Symphony Orchestra selling for cents on the dollar.

The cost of an education at Boston University is $51,100 per year. Surely, the students at this fine institution and others should be able to abide by copyright laws and purchase their music legally at 99 cents per track to upload to their iPods. Thousands of today’s artists rely on copyright laws to protect their output and ensure fair compensation. Unless there is aggressive and high-profile enforcement of these laws, the music industry will be socialized, and we’ll all be like Eastern Europe, stuck listening to the Best of Abba on our car radios for generations to come.

William L. Prince (CFA’78)Berkeley, California

As a graduate of CFA — from which many have gone on to compose, arrange, record, make movies, and make a life in the arts — I find it intolerable that the University not only allows its students to rob us of our talents and income but has its lawyers defend such actions.

Students know they are supposed to pay for downloads. The money they take out of my pocket could very well be the reason I can’t afford a “gift” to the University each year.

Sig Singer (CFA’59) Bergenfield, New Jersey

Unsung Chelsea Heroes

The article about the Boston University/Chelsea Partnership (“Chelsea at Twenty,” Spring 2008) focused on the general accomplishments of the extraordinary twenty-year effort. Having served on the BU management team for thirteen years, including two stints as chair, I know that the unsung heroes of this project were not the faculty or deans, but the BU administrators who gave untold and uncompensated hours negotiating labor contracts, attending management team and school committee meetings, defusing political issues, and managing day-to-day operations in the schools.

John Silber must not have had a good grasp of what was going on if the focus of his disappointment was the failure to mention Peter Greer (“Letters,” Summer 2008). Although I would not discount the contributions of Dean Greer, I can think of many BU administrators whose contributions far exceeded his.

My disappointment is not that anyone’s name was omitted. Rather, it is that after twenty years there has been no discernible research, no book written, and no model for a university managing a public school system. This disappointment goes right to the top.

Paul Clemente Milton, Massachusetts

Ed. note: Clemente is a former associate vice president for finance at BU. He was a founding member of the Boston University/Chelsea Management Team, serving until 2002

Kamel Remembered

I recently read of the passing of the actor Stanley Kamel (CFA’65) (“In Memoriam,” Summer 2008). For forty-three years, Stanley appeared on television as a supporting actor in many popular dramas, in character roles from the weak younger brother to the deranged villain. I applaud Stanley for that variety. If you are interested in acting, you might — if you are fortunate — catch him in reruns.

David Bradbury (CFA’65) Harpswell, Maine

Architects... Again

Mark Gottsegen (CFA’74) must not have read Architecture of the Absurd to its end (“Letters,” Summer 2008). If he had, he would have noted that I specifically blamed clients for permitting the outrageous excesses of starchitects (“Perspectives,” Spring 2008). I noted MIT’s complicity in the disastrous Stata Center, which MIT School of Architecture and Planning Dean William Mitchell praised as possibly “the best thing [Frank Gehry’s] done.”

John Silber (Hon.’95) President Emeritus

Room for Underachievers?

As a 1948 College of Business Administration graduate, without honors, how well I remember my days at BU, then a coat of many colors all over Beantown. I graduated from Haverhill High School in 1945, having arrived on Planet Earth on Groundhog Day 1928. How well I remember a one-month, sixty-ride student ticket on the Boston Railroad for $8.30. And a deli sandwich — baloney, of course — for a nickel and a dime, a nickel for a big Coke. For living cash, I worked every weekend in the shoe shops in Haverhill, then a first-class shoe town. Tuition was $375 a year, with cash on the barrelhead. I left BU foot-loose and fancy-free — no student loans for this kid, especially since my major was business administration. Thence to the long-gone First NB of Boston, off to the U.S. Air Force as an officer in 1951, then with the Air Force Audit Agency until my civilian retirement in 1983. A wife, five children, nine grandchildren, and five greats to whom I swear eternal allegiance. Various and sundry efforts of limited repute on my part to this very present day. Just stuff done. And here I am today in Ocean City, Maryland, a tourist town, with my likely last hurrah a ways down the road. So, in the end, so to speak, is there not enough room for us underachievers in the glossy Letters page of Bostonia? Can we be at least seen as being a bit positive by stepping aside for the overachievers of my totally adored alma mater? Think so?

Raymond M. Sawyer (SMG’48) Ocean City, Maryland

Teaching Death

I read with great interest “Final Answers” (Spring 2008), as I have been a hospice social worker for more than a decade. I have participated in training medical students, medical residents, nursing students, and social work interns. Breaking bad news while also offering hope is the expertise of the hospice team. I was very chagrined when I finished the article and there were no references at all to hospice. The School of Medicine is missing a great opportunity and a great resource. Contacting the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization will quickly provide resources and information that can assist the faculty in further developing the curriculum that is so sorely needed.

Melinda L. (Edmonds) Leo (CAS’74) Norristown, Pennsylvania

Greek Puns

I have just been reading a rendition of The Odyssey by Simon Armitage, and I have been reacquainting myself, after a long hiatus, with the Greek myths. Certainly Zeus and Athena played significant roles in the life of our hero, Odysseus.

I enjoyed reading in “Divine Intervention” (“Explorations,” Summer 2008) about Mark Alonge’s work as a “myth buster” with respect to the beliefs of other archaeologists about there being a special Cretan Zeus, a Zeus who had Minoan heritage.

Since I love to play with language I will say Alonge’s research is “con-Crete” against the notion of a Minoan heritage for this great mythic god, as opposed to pro-Crete. He would also probably say he has concrete evidence by way of his language research across ancient Greek literature.

Remember the Minotaur. What is bull to some is another person’s myth-busting truth. I guess time, Kronos, has the answer, and perhaps one day time will tell.

Thanks for an interesting piece. I guess we do need divine intervention to sort out the puzzles that keep coming to us in every direction!

Ruth (Wigdor) Housman (SED’69, SSW’82) Newton Centre, Massachusetts

Political Correctness?

You describe Halleh Hakimian (CAS’97) as an “Iranian-American Jewish woman” (“Alumni Notes”, Summer 2008). I would rewrite this as, “Halleh’s parents were Iranian immigrants. Halleh was born into the Jewish faith.” Or, “Halleh is an Iranian immigrant. She was born into the Jewish faith.”

Phyllis Stern (CAS’60) Cambridge, Massachusetts


Our apologies to Jatin Roper (MED’04) for misspelling his name in our story “The Good Life” (Summer 2008).

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