Piracy on the Seas of Higher Education

By Graham Spanier, Penn State University

Advances in information technology have allowed universities to gain educational tools we never dreamed of 20 years ago. Engineering classes can meet online to solve problems. Political science students are able to post their papers on class Web sites for peer review. And oceanography researchers are holding video conferences with teams of collaborators from thousands of miles away. But as high-speed Internet access has enabled so many great opportunities at universities across the country, we are faced more than ever with the challenge of using that technology responsibly.

At the core of our mission at Penn State is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The knowledge created and taught by our faculty is a form of intellectual property. And part of our mission is to support integrity and ethical behavior in respecting such property. But we are now confronted with a tough reality: College campuses have become ground zero for the online piracy of some of our nation’s most sought after intellectual property—movies, music, and software.

When we stand by idly and allow our students to abuse the privilege of high-speed Internet access for illegal downloading, we are failing our principles and we are failing our students.

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