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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    University Censorship: Going Too Far?

    Imagine walking into the library and requesting a copy of a controversial book, but the University has banned it. Books in this country are thought of as a ‘free’ flow of information, but in this imaginary situation, you would be prohibited from accessing the particular information your controversial book has to offer; at least on campus.

    By 1998, this fantasy became a reality on Stony Brook University grounds. However, it wasn’#146;t a book being banned, but access to words on a particular website. Go ahead; I dare you to try logging on to at any campus computer.

    This site being blocked was frustrating my first semester at Stony Brook, but I didn’#146;t see it as a societal wrong. After all, I just wanted to download their mp3 sharing program and use it to download and upload music I didn’#146;t pay for. It was illegal and why shouldn’#146;t the University sanction it? OK, I understand.

    That perception changed in the semesters that followed. Other music related sites with copyright-violating implications started to get blocked. A week ago, rumor had it librarians on campus were looking to block students from accessing pornography sites unless the student had a ‘letter from the professor indicating legitimate research.’

    Not everyone who reads a controversial book such as Mein Kampf is a participant in the Nazi party. Similarly, not everyone who goes to a controversial site that permits the viewing of pornography or the Internet protocols of mp3 file sharing programs is doing so because they are looking to download and upload illegal music or ‘amuse themselves’ in public. My favorite analogy to this situation took place on this campus a year ago.

    Sitting though another psychology lecture in the Javits Lecture Hall, a student chose to take control of the loud speaker and scream profanities. The incident ended quickly, and a day later the professor told us the extra credit points for the exams were no longer going to be offered because of what this one person did. Since when did one bad apple, a few, or even many, spoil the bunch?

    I understand that by living on University property many rules and standards of living can be set. But setting unfair rules has become a habit here at Stony Brook, and it is having unfortunate consequences on student quality of life.

    Prohibiting the flow of particular information is wrong and is one of the ways in which Stony Brook is not treating its students fairly. Ultimately, moves like this make the campus a less pleasant and ‘free’ place to live.

    I understand the need to keep file serving to a minimum so people can download information at a reasonable speed and I understand the need to promote the respect for intellectual property and copyright laws. However, blocking the view of certain websites is not the only way to accomplish this task. It’#146;s just the easy way out for Stony Brook bureaucrats.

    As the music industry has threatened to sue under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Stony Brook has chosen to block certain websites entirely. It would seem legally defensible that students have every right to look at whatever information is available on the Internet.

    Too bad Stony Brook would rather side with the legal view of the Music Industry, which pays for high priced lawyers, than with its own students, who pay thousands of dollars in tuition. It’#146;s easier for Stony Brook to block controversial websites than to hire a lawyer to defend a position: Students have a right to view whatever information is available to them on the World Wide Web.

    Ultimately, the students are losing when it comes to the ‘free’ flow of information on campus. Uploading amounts of data that will disrupt the flow of information on campus is one thing. When this happens, Stony Brook works to shut people down.

    However, not allowing people to download mp3s of music they’#146;ve paid for via legally existing programs such as the Gnutella network is plainly unfair. Not allowing students to view words or images on particular websites is plainly wrong. The amount of freedom and the standard of living can, indeed, be raised, but are Stony Brook bureaucrats up to the task?

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