Copyright Education Is Effective

In the new issue of the NASPA Journal is an article from Drs. Jennifer Christie Siemens and Steven W. Kopp entitled “Teaching Ethical Copyright Behavior: Assessing the Effects of a University-Sponsored Computing Ethics Program.” In summary, this article reports that persistent educational efforts have a positive effect on the self-reported behaviors and beliefs of the surveyed undergraduate college students.

The article reports on the results of a broad educational program at a private institution in the Midwest. Students in a freshman introductory class (similar to a Freshman Year Experience class or other “college 101” classes) were exposed to different instructional techniques “to address the issue of ethical use of copyrighted Internet content.” When the results of a web-based survey of the students were analyzed, the most effective efforts were those that utilized multiple techniques. No single technique performed better than any other. Moreoever, there were significant differences between men and women: “males were significantly less likely to agree with the policy…comply with the policy… [and] perceived downloading copyrighted music…and other content…to be significantly more ethical compared to female respondents.”

In a statement familiar to both student affairs administrators and IT professionals, the researchers tell us that “both technologies and laws are quickly ignored or evaded by [students] and…some other approach may be necessary to influence behavior.” In other words, institutions must create and enforce policies and educate students about those policies if they want to change this behavior. More specifically, neither lawsuits against a very, very few students nor technological attempts to enforce behavior have been successful. To the best of my knowledge, the only technology that appears to actually be effective is to simply limit the amount of bandwidth a particular student can utilize. Nearly any other technology can be easily bypassed by savvy students, steps on fair use rights, or both. Of course, one could also just make it someone else’s problem.
It’s interesting to note that both of these researchers are marketing faculty. It is my observation that most of the relevant research into technology issues in which student affairs and university administrators may be interested is coming out of faculty from departments or disciplines other than higher education. Much of the research in which I have been most interested has come from communications faculty. More on my thoughts in this phenomenon can be found in an older post.

Kudos to these researchers for performing this critical research! They are absolutely right when they assert that despite the growing presence of these programs, “there has been little published research on the effectiveness of university-sponsored educational programs in curbing illegal downloading behavior on college campuses. Due to the expense of implementing such programs, it is important to assess their effectiveness.” This is particularly important as Congress continues to press this issue and potentially ineffective solutions in an effort to appease their constituents.

As always, there is much more of interest in the article and I encourage you to read it. I don’t know how widely available the NASPA Journal is in the common journal databases but I’m sure you can obtain the article via InterLibrary Loan if you are not a NASPA member or your institution does not have a subscription.