With the advent of telecommunications technologies, especially the Internet, there is wider, cheaper, and faster access than ever before to information in every form--text, audio, graphics, video. This broad, easy access raises conflicts with the legal rights of information creators to try to derive a profit from their creations.
In the area of music distribution, for example, it is common practice for people to share and distribute copyrighted music across computer networks without the permission of the copyright owners. At least according to reports in the news media, this practice has flourished on college campuses, perhaps due to the common availability of high-bandwidth network access.
Most universities (including UCI) address this issue with a policy that says, in essence, "Obey the law." A few, such as Penn State, make obeying the law easier by purchasing a campuswide license granting students permission to share music within certain limits. (UCI, in fact, does this too--not for music, but for newspapers and other publications.)
At http://eee.uci.edu/help/student/copyright/ you can see a letter explaining UCI's policy. Penn State's policy is described at http://napster.psu.edu/ .
What should UCI's policy be? For this assignment, you will write a letter to Manuel N. Gomez, UCI's Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. You will recommend a file sharing policy for the campus and justify why your recommended policy is better than the alternatives.
You should consider all the stakeholders and how your proposed policy will affect them. Your recommendations should be practical, not just wishful; you can't just say "change the policy to let anyone copy anything," for example, because both the university and the individual copiers would be subject to serious legal liability. Note, too, that especially with budget cuts, having the university pay for something means that something else will probably have to be cut or else additional revenue will have to be raised. You might also wish to consider more broadly what kinds of information should be made easily available to students; perhaps electronic versions of textbooks would be a better service than music, for example.
You may support the current UCI policy or propose changes to it. You should make focused and specific recommendations rather than just complaining about existing problems or proposals. You should not try to suggest the precise legal wording of any policy you propose, but you should describe clearly what effect you want to achieve and why that effect is the best balance of the various stakeholders' concerns. Your recommendations should be grounded in what you know about computer science and about copyright law and the legal system as a whole; it isn't realistic, for example, to propose that copyright simply not apply to electronic information.
As always, there is no single "correct position" to take on these issues. Think about the issues carefully and form your own opinion; it's much easier to write about something you actually believe than to try to fake it. On the other hand, you must approach your recommendations with enough objectivity to understand the opposing point of view and deal with those arguments in a reasoned way.
Stage I: Report on your approach (outline due May 18)
First, read the relevant selections in the course reading list and the policies referred to above. Feel free to follow up with other news stories and other information on the Web (but be careful to evaluate the authority and credibility of your sources).
Next, decide on the policy you will recommend. You won't include a full stakeholder analysis in the letter you write, but you should still do one yourself to help inform your recommendations.
Then write a one- or two-sentence description of the policy you're recommending, followed by a half-page to one-page outline (single-spaced) that gives the reasoning and arguments supporting your recommendation.
As usual, this is the stage at which you need to do much of the work, even though the "deliverable" is short.
To get credit for this assignment, every student is required to meet with Shubha Tandon, the TA in charge of this assignment. She will set up a schedule of meetings around the due date. Be sure to keep the paper copy of your approved outline; you will need to turn it in with the draft and final versions.
This outline is due electronically to Checkmate by Tuesday, May 18; the paper copy is due at your meeting with Shubha.
Stage II: Write your letter (due May 27)
Second, write your letter, following your outline and the TA's suggestions.
Your letter should be at least three and at most five double-spaced pages in 10- or 12-point type. You can use a simple memorandum form with four lines at the top: the date, "To:", "From:", and "Subject". Don't have a huge header that takes up half the first page.
Note that a letter to a policy maker is different from a research paper: This letter is shorter, it won't cite research sources as completely and meticulously [though you still should cite credible sources to document the assertions you make], and it will recommend to the recipient a particular course of action and address explicitly the reasons why the recipient should take that action.
Remember, though, that this is an academic exercise and should reflect your "academic voice" (semi-formal language and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation). Writing that doesn't follow the standards for academic communication (e.g., calling one side or the other names, like "greedy corporations" or "student pirates") diminishes the effectiveness of your argument.
This version will be graded; the TA will make comments and suggest improvements. Your grade for this part will count 30% of your grade on the whole assignment, so it pays to do as well as you can at this point. On Thursday, May 27, turn in:
Be sure to keep the paper copy of your graded draft letter; you will turn it in again with the final version.
Stage III: Revise your letter (due June 10)
Your final, revised letter should take into account the TA's comments. It should be about the same length (i.e., the same number of words) as your previous version (unless the TA said to lengthen or shorten it), but this final version should be single-spaced like a real letter (so of course it will fill one and a half to two pages). This final letter will count 70% of the grade on the whole assignment.
On June 10, turn in:
The June 10 date, even more than the others, is firm; please plan to turn in what you have completed on that date.
Other important advice: Assume that Vice Chancellor Gomez knows at least the basics about copyright law and about computer technology; don't waste space writing a tutorial. Focus instead on what policy you propose, what effects you think that policy will have on the major stakeholdes, why it will have those effects, and why those effects are good.
Your grade will depend on how well you inform yourself of the relevant issues, state the goals you wish to achieve, determine a realistic approach or proposal that achieves your goal, craft an argument or justification supporting your approach, support your argument with citations from credible sources, and express yourself clearly, completely, and succinctly.
Going back to read the general advice on the voting assignment sheet would be a good idea. In particular, be careful to distinguish fact from predictions of the future or opinions (either your own or ones you cite). Also don't forget the other guidelines on the "Writing Assignment Requirements" sheet.
It will help if you plan actually to send your letter, rather than treating it simply as a classroom exercise. This will help you do a better job by making the whole process more concrete.