Sun, Aug 19, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Youth lacking in role models

At last, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), an umbrella group representing the recording industry in Taiwan, and 14 Chengkung University (成功大學) students have reached a settlement under which the students have agreed to make a public apology for unauthorized downloading of MP3 music files from the Internet. While this is probably the best possible resolution of the dispute under the circumstances, many loose ends remain. More importantly, this dispute highlights a troublesome mentality and attitude among the people of Taiwan in general.

The question fundamental to this case is whether the students had indeed broken any law. The defense attorney hired by Chengkung University (成功大學) for the students continues to claim that a real answer requires a court verdict, and the students haven't necessarily broken the law. The attorney did concede that the students' conduct was "wrong," in any event. However, in view of the fact that the students implicated downloaded as many as 18,000 songs in total, it seems at odds with common sense to claim their conduct constituted legal "fair use."

Such comment indicates that the students implicated may have agreed to concede their mistakes to avoid possible legal punishment for their action, but they and the general public, as a matter of fact, remain hazy about the copyright questions involved. Therefore, Taiwan's government must take the necessary steps to clarify the relevant legal gray areas, and the Ministry of Education must keep up its promise to the IFPI by strengthening on-campus education on intellectual property rights.

At the very least, it is comforting to know the students implicated are now willing to concede their wrongs, a sign indicative of an ability to engage in self-scrutiny in the manner of mature and reasonable adults. It is a major step in the right direction. When the controversy first broke out, students, and not just the 14 implicated, were so outraged they were totally unwilling to acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Understandably, the raid of student dorm rooms by the local prosecutor's office -- without proper consent or search warrants -- stoked their anger. However, a large part of their anger had to do with an inability to conduct mature and rational self-scrutiny, as well as some very faulty logic and values. Some of their rationales included "everyone is doing it [ie, the unauthorized downloading]," "why not go after the organized pirates," and "the prosecutor's office made mistakes, too [ie, referring to the raid]," and so on. In other words, their first instinct was to look for scapegoats and point the finger at others, when nothing justifies or excuses unauthorized taking from others. It is at least a moral wrong, if not a legal wrong.

But, on further reflection, maybe the students should not be blamed for such immature and confused logic. After all, just look at the rest of the members of Taiwan's society, who are supposedly mature adults and, in particular, its politicians and lawmakers.

For example, the opposition alliance appears to think Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is the root of all Taiwan's troubles, including current chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) presidential defeat. They turn a blind eye to the fact that Lien lost because he had no public appeal and many of Taiwan's current problems have to do with the way the opposition has been pulling the Taiwan government's leg. A similar mentality is found in the Taiwanese businessmen rushing to China to make investments in total disregard of Taiwan's economic recession. Their reason -- "everyone else is doing it."

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