Controlling Student Bodies

As somebody who's recently been on the front lines in the conflict over multiculturalism and indoctrination on college campuses, it pleased me to see Alan Charles Kors' "Thought Reform 101" (March 2000).

One of my first assignments on the student newspaper at Tulane this fall was to cover an "Undoing Racism" session by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. When I arrived I was told that I would have to be an active participant in the training if I wanted to be present at all. It seemed clear, by that point, that an objective story was not what they had in mind.

Journalistic integrity prevents me from giving my opinion, but I can share a few things that went on. Racism was defined as a concept separate from race prejudice, one in which whites supposedly oppressed everyone else whether or not their attitudes were actually racist. Race prejudice, and the concept of race itself, was defined as a specious and ignorant belief. A lecture on axiology, however, followed this.

When the discussion turned to solutions, I proposed making the goal of anti-racism to discard the concept of race altogether and recognize everybody as an individual. I was told by the facilitator that the goal should be, basically, to have an aesthetically pleasing color balance and "appreciate others' struggles," and that recognizing individuals is "crap" and something only whites want.

Bennett Kalafut
New Orleans, LA

Dr. Kors' article on this subject omitted one important piece of information: How loudly do those who conduct these courses speak? If it's so loud that the students can't sleep, then it may indeed be Orwellian. If not, well, is it all that big a deal?

I remember required courses of similar ilk when I was a freshman–different subjects, of course, but the same exploitation of a captive audience. Freshmen are the eternal captives. But unless they've changed from my day, their ear for arrant nonsense hasn't expired.

James T. Caprio
Englewood, FL

Colleges and universities would be better off spending the money now being used to hire the thought police to hold pizza parties or rock concerts or just about any free and open gathering where impressionable freshmen could meet each other, one on one, and explore for themselves the delight of diversity.

Robert J. Shedlarz
Navarre, OH

Although I understand and can appreciate Professor Alan Charles Kors' position, I disagree with his premise that working with students on diversity issues amounts to an invasion of liberty. Professor Kors named me as one of the "most celebrated facilitators at the moment" on what he calls "diversity education," and although he recognizes my intentions as good, he maintains that the effect of my work is "frightening, atavistic, and irrational," by means that are "deeply intrusive."

I have to say that Professor Kors has greatly misunderstood not only the purpose of "diversity education" but also the important need for it. My work is not about "training" individuals on issues of race. But is it about moral re-education? That depends. What if there were "diversity training" programs operating in Nazi Germany with a goal of "moral re-education" that had the effect of stopping the Holocaust? Would Professor Kors have supported such education? What if education had been able to raise the level of consciousness of individuals who created and perpetuated the institution of slavery with the effect of dismantling it earlier? What if our "re-education" programs served to eliminate the epidemic violence heaped on people from various ethnic cultures, women, gays, etc.? What if education were provided to the leaders and citizens of this country so that they recognized their actions in westward expansion were resulting in the genocide of Native Americans and practices were therefore changed to stop the genocide? Would Professor Kors support such education?

The heart of my work, and of others who are implementing an ethical practice with regards to diversity, is to assist individuals in looking at how they have been taught to perpetuate systems in our society that discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and class and to learn how to take action to eliminate all "isms." Is it wrong for us as a society to work toward the elimination of racism, sexism, or classism? I do not think so. I am convinced that our society is based on power dynamics that impart privileges for some to the exclusion of others. The "founding fathers" began this democratic country with only landowners and men having the right to vote. Institutions and policies grew out of this way of thinking. In the U.S., power has always been concentrated in the hands of a few. This has led to an array of societal problems with people from one group viewed as expendable, immoral, or less-deserving.

Re-education happens every day to all young people to perpetuate a system that maintains power for some to the exclusion of others. Young people are not born with a belief system that some people are better than others, more deserving, more intelligent–they have to learn this. The work that I do with students, sometimes through the film Skin Deep, is about transformation, not what Professor Kors calls thought reform or "re-education." I am interested in transforming our society, perhaps our world, into one where freedom, justice, and equality are realities for everyone, not just the few.

I believe people come into the world wanting to do good, but are in fact "re-educated" every day to maintain a system around them of the "haves" and the "have-nots." Do people need to be "re-educated" in order for transformation to happen? I believe so. Is this taking away their individual freedom? I think not.

Hugh Vasquez
TODOS Institute
Oakland, CA

All Rights Should Be Reserved

Jesse Walker's piece about copyright law ("Copy Catfight," March) seems more fitting to The New Republic than to REASON. Mr. Walker's assertion that copyright laws create government-granted monopolies is puzzling. A government recognition of the right to specific property is merely the legal demonstration of an ownership interest, whether it is the deed to a home, the title to a vehicle, or the recording of a UCC financing statement. The fact that government acts to protect property rights seems desirable in any society that values classical liberal ideals.

His pragmatic arguments that the public good is served by forcing Disney to release Song of the South or that somehow our collective lives will be diminished by the fact that copyrighted antique movies are rotting in some warehouse somewhere ring hollow. His implication that the Gershwin heirs didn't write the music to which they hold copyrights, and therefore should be denied their property rights, amounts to an outright denial of the right to dispose of one's property as one sees fit.

Most importantly, Mr. Walker forgets that the creation of intellectual property renders it, in fact, property. While it is true that "shared experiences" help create culture, they do not create ownership. My generation grew up with fast cars and drag strips. Those shared experiences helped create our particular culture but they did not give us an ownership interest in General Motors. Instead, the ownership of property resides with the person who created or acquired it through moral means. Additionally, the fact that Bob Dylan, George Lucas, and Disney act hypocritically or even stupidly does not diminish their right to property. By the same token, the fact that the Grateful Dead consistently allowed anyone to tape their concerts does not diminish their property rights either. It just made them cool.

Mr. Walker has amply demonstrated that intellectual property rights are messy and inconvenient. But so are property rights for land. Trespass and dumping are problems that could be solved with gunfire. However, civilized people attempt to solve those problems through appropriate law. The right to intellectual property is no different, and those who own the property, no matter how desirable that property is, have the sole right to determine its use and disposal. That is a basic tenet of classical liberal thought.

Mike Snell
Riverside, CA

I would like to correct a flawed idea about copyright law based on my own personal experience. The owner of a copyright must vigorously defend it if it is to maintain its legal validity. In 1997, I wrote a book about backgammon strategy (Backgammon: Winning With The Doubling Cube, The Gammon Press), whose total potential audience would be limited to several thousand serious backgammon players.

The book resulted from a series of articles I had posted to the Internet newsgroup for backgammon. Several individuals who maintained Web sites devoted to backgammon asked if they could post my articles on their sites. On the advice of my publisher, I refused. Since the wording of many of the articles would end up similar to that of the book, I would weaken my copyright by allowing such articles to remain on the Web sites.

There is competition even in the tiny market for high-level backgammon book publishing. Another publisher contacted me while I was writing my book and offered to publish it without paying me any royalties. Not surprisingly, I stuck with my first publisher and was happy that I could, if necessary, prevent the second publisher from simply taking my original articles off the Web and publishing them for a profit or even duplicating my book after claiming that the copyright was invalid. In the latter case, I probably would have won a court battle.

When Twentieth Century Fox required Alexander Thompson to remove his transcripts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the Web, it was not "clearly being stupid." Instead, it was simply vigorously defending its copyright. If Fox allowed the transcripts to remain after their existence was called to its attention, it would have a much weaker legal position if another party then used those transcripts to film duplicate episodes with unknown, cheap actors, then sold those episodes to a network.

Further, why should there be any limit at all to the length of a copyright? After all, there is no limit to the length of time a particular family can own, and profit from, physical property.

Peter Bell
Redwood City, CA

Jesse Walker made some good points about the aggressive behavior of the copyright-owning industries, but some statements need correcting, such as the statistic that the term of copyright has been extended 11 times in the past 40 years. The copyright term has only been changed three times in the last 100 years–in 1909, when the initial and renewal terms were extended to 28 years; again in 1976 when the term was extended to the lifetime of the author plus 50 years; and finally in 1998 when it was extended to lifetime of the author plus 70 years.

Congress was anticipating the change it would eventually make in the 1976 Act as early as the mid-1960s because the term of lifetime plus 50 years was the international standard to which the U.S. was expected to conform if it wanted to join the Berne Convention. But the bill was held up for other reasons, so Congress passed a series of one-year extensions for works copyrighted under the 1909 Act so that they would not fall into the public domain pending the official change in the term of copyright. These nine extensions were fully absorbed by the changes made by the 1976 Copyright Act, and none of them acted as separate changes in the term of copyright.

Second, Mr. Walker's reason for why the U.S. adopted the lifetime plus 70 term is that whatever Disney wants, Disney gets. If that were true, why has Disney consistently lost copyright battles to the cable and the satellite industries? The story that lifetime plus 70 was Disney's doing began with a Washington Post article last year, but the hearings and the legislative history of the bill reveal that the U.S. wanted to conform to the new international standard set by first Germany and then the entire European Union.

Mr. Walker makes a good point that people who want to use out-of-print books ought to have some relief under fair use because there are no copies for them to buy legitimately. Surprisingly, whether a book is out-of-print is not among the criteria for fair use listed in the 1976 Copyright Act. Fair use was a common law defense until the 1976 Act. The development of common law depends on cases coming before judges and there was an absence of cases of authors complaining about people using out-of-print books, probably because the authors had abandoned their efforts at commercially exploiting their works.

In 1976, Congress codified the fair use criteria developed under common law, and so, inadvertently, it also codified the lack of attention paid under the common law to people who want to use out-of-print books. But Congress has been known to amend its codification of fair use, so this could be a good area for legislative reform.

Robert Cassler
Former general counsel
Copyright Royalty Tribunal
Alexandria, VA

Jesse Walker replies:

The Constitution gives Congress the power to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." This is not a recognition of a preexisting right. It is a privilege assigned by the government. Ordinary property arises from scarcity: Two bodies cannot have competing claims on the same house. But both Alexander Thompson and Fox can possess the idea of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and use it for their own ends, without encroaching on the other's ability to do the same.

So I appreciate Mr. Snell's comment about General Motors, but a better comparison, given the kind of copyright violations I wrote about, would be if the company started suing people who sold parts from Oldsmobiles. Or made paintings of Cadillacs.

If Mr. Bell really thinks Buffy fans would rather watch "duplicate episodes with unknown, cheap actors," or that any network would expect to make money by airing them, then he knows nothing about the TV business. The more important question is whether fans should be allowed to shoot such faux-episodes for their own amusement and post them on their Web sites. I think they should.

Readers can decide for themselves whether they accept Mr. Cassler's explanation of when a copyright extension isn't really a copyright extension. But I never claimed that "whatever Disney wants, Disney gets." The fact that Disney might lose a battle with another powerful special interest–the cable and satellite industries–says nothing about its ability to defeat the disorganized opponents of the copyright extension. (Nor was Disney the only company pushing for the extension.)

When the European Union extended its native copyrights, it agreed to extend foreign copyrights as well, but only if we foreigners also extended our terms. This did help galvanize copyright holders who sell their wares in Europe–including Disney–to push for a change in the national law. But that was hardly the only reason anyone endorsed the bill–and it only strengthens the case that the extension was meant to protect corporate privileges, not individual rights.