I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the Knowledge Held Hostage conference at UPenn last Friday, and had a wonderful time! You can see funny pictures of me in a suit, and you can see an article about the conference which mentions the Diebold case at eSchool News online. Unfortunately, Swarthmore College doesn’t look very good in the article, because in my 5 minute “speech” I was only able to talk about how Swarthmore wimped out at first, not how they were wonderfully supportive afterwards. I can’t emphasize enough that all of the people in the administration were behind us 100%, but that they were afraid of Diebold suing the college for copyright infringement.
In case you aren’t aware, a copyright infringement lawsuit is one of the few things that can bankrupt a well-endowed college, because of the absurdly high statutory damages possible in a worst-case scenario. About the only other kind of lawsuit with this power is a class-action medical lawsuit with hundreds and thousands of claimants. The college’s reaction was therefore understandable; their first duty is to keep the college running for the sake of the students. However, I believe that they also have a duty to stand up for democracy and freedom of speech, and I think that they were a bit too risk-averse, as I think it was clear from the beginning that Diebold did not have a case. Naturally this is even more clear in hindsight.