The University of Illinois College of Law knows a thing our two about scandals. It’s a public university in one of the most politically corrupt states in the union, so we can forgive the occasional admissions scandal (like the one that popped up back in 2009).
You’d think that a school which has had its own problems keeping everything on the up-and-up wouldn’t be so eager to go after its own students who commit the little white crime of illegally downloading something off of the internet. But you’d be wrong. Apparently the Illinois Law administration will aggressively discipline students caught making illegal downloads.
Wonderful — so the job market is in the tank, you’re starting to figure out that living in Champaign is nothing like living in Chicago, and now the law school itself is going to come down on you if grab Iron Man 2 without paying Paramount its pound of flesh? Things are rough…
If you remember, Brooklyn Law took a similar hardline position against illegal downloads last year. The school threatened to out illegal downloaders to the authorities. But after students complained, the administration softened its stance.
At Illinois, the administration is promising disciplinary action — and possibly ruination of offending students’ careers. Here is the letter that the associate dean for academic affairs, John Colombo, sent out to the Illinois Law student body:
I know that anyone over the age of 6 these days is completely familiar with bit torrent clients and the wonders of downloading copyrighted music, movies and TV shows. What you may not know is that many downloads these days carry digital watermarks that enable the copyright holders to trace the download to the end user, and then charge them with a violation of the copyright laws.
Violating the copyright laws is a violation of the University and College’s disciplinary code. We have already processed three discipline cases this fall dealing with law students caught illegally downloading copyrighted TV episodes.
I know it is tempting; I know “everyone does it.” But I also know that if you do not resist temptation, you are likely to get caught, and the result will be disciplinary action that will at the very least involve a record reprimand that will be reported to the bar and future employers.
Umm, Dean Colombo, don’t you have to have students who are able to get jobs before you can threaten to take them away? This would be like David Lat threatening to report me cheating on my diet to Chippendales while shouting, “You’ll never dance in this town again!”
In any event, Colombo follows up this not-so-veiled threat with one of those painful instances where old people try to seem like they are “down” with “what the kids are doing”:
So . . . don’t do it. If you really just can’t live without that episode of True Blood or Top Chef that you missed, spend the $1.99 to get it legally from iTunes or open a Netflix account to download whatever you want legally for $11/mth. Risking disciplinary action to save $2 is really, really dumb, and I would like to think that our students are smarter, and more disciplined, than that.
Don’t confuse the issue. Maybe the kid doesn’t have an extra $11 a month (and yes, Dean Colombo just opened the door for me to ask about the ridiculous $53,112 that it costs for in-state residents to go to Illinois Law). Maybe the kid feels that $2 is a maddening overcharge for 24 minutes of television. Maybe it’s the principle of the thing that inspires people to download things illegally.
And maybe Illinois law students should respect the law more enough to resist illegally downloading material. But if Illinois wants its students to respect the law in that way, they should do it in the classroom, not via threatening emails. Raising upstanding lawyers is laudable, but creators of lawyers should consider what kind of lawyers they are creating.
And to illustrate that point, I leave you with this: