Jim Farmer [biography, email jfx "AT" immagic "DOT" com] sent me this guest contribution today.
This morning we learned Richard O’Dwyer will not be extradited to the U.S. This was not surprising here in Washington DC. The copyright infringement cases brought by the U.S. are crumbling when reviewed by the courts. O’Dwyer’s barristers Ben Cooper and Edward Fitzgerald QCcrafted a brilliant agreement to save the public reputation of both the U.S. prosecutors and the British government. Even though some of us believe O’Dwyer would not have been found guilty of a crime, the pressures and risk were not worth making this a test case.
O’Dwyer was an excellent representative for UK students. He was always calm, thoughtful, focused, and informed—this is how we want the public to perceive students. This took courage, insight, and patience. His video on today’s Guardian — an increasingly popular news source here in the U.S. — was an excellent representation for students.
In the video O’Dwyer gave credit to his mother Julia for her support through a difficult experience. Those of us who followed the case closely admired her for her persistent effort and for bearing the burden of a parent.
In Washington DC Jimmy Wales’ “Save Richard O’Dwyer from Extradition” created a fear of repeating the Wikipedia blackout last January as Congress and the President consider changes to the copyright and privacy legislation .His efforts likely encouraged the U.S. to settle.
O’Dwyer did not do anything that is not done by thousands of students in the U.S. Companies like Google make such references to copyrighted work consistently. Current practice to include Internet address (URLs) for references in academic works often are to copyrighted documents The U.S. legal interpretation, not yet fully tested in the courts, appears to consider these references to a copyrighted work as a crime. I have asked faculty members if they have considered what O’Dwyer did—with advertising or not— illegal and, if asked by a student, would they have said. All have replied they would have answered “legal”.
The recent National Union of Students/Intellectual Property Office study said 57% of students had never learned about intellectual property issues before coming to the university. The report also quotes a 2006 article in the Library Review saying: “The current climate regarding IP in the UK HE sector has been described as 'both confused and confusing'.” This confusion makes faculty hesitant to give needed guidance to students that may later be found wrong. This confusion also impedes the effective transfer of information that is important both to research and to instruction.
The NUS study concludes:
Academics, and module tutors in particular, are seen as key sources of information about IP issues; 59% of respondents said they would approach their lecturer for help with IP issues. However, students are not convinced that academics are well-informed about IP issues; only 52% believed their lecturers were well-informed about IP issues. (Emphasis in the original).
The report fails to suggest how a faculty member could learn what guidance to give students; the implied recommendation cannot be implemented in the current uncertain environment.
Richard O’Dwyer was an unlikely hero. But no one could have done better.