Monday, 15 October 2012

Academic Epidemic

for promotional purposes

An RMIT university student, assigned to my son’s kinder as part of her studies, approached me the other week. “Your son has some great ideas”, she told me, “and I was wondering whether I can take photos of him as part of my graduation work.” Sure, I said; as in, why not help a student? It’s not like I wasn’t one myself (and it’s not like I wasn’t aching for any help I could get).
“Great! I just need you to sign this form.” And with that she went on to produce an official RMIT form stating boldly that by signing on the dotted line I give RMIT the “irrevocable right to [do everything they want with the photo] and [claim full ownership of the photo]” (as specified in advanced Legalese). I stopped there and informed the student I will not sign such a form. She was clearly disappointed but kept smiling at me in that made up way one has to get out of Israel to witness (in Israel I would have been told exactly what my mother did to make a living). I went on to explain why but it was obvious I was talking to the deaf.
So here’s the deal. Why on earth does RMIT require the right to do everything with the photo when all it needs to do is have the right to incorporate it in low level academic work, a right I would have gladly given them? Why do they need to reserve the additional right to, say, run a worldwide advertising campaign for recycled condoms featuring my son’s photo on the neon signs of Times Square and Piccadilly Circus?
Then again, why do they need to use these signed forms in the first place? I already gave the student my approval to use my son’s photos for her work; I trusted her. However, once introduced to these forms, written by obviously overpaid lawyers, that trust went up and disappeared like a fart in the wind.
What we have before us is an example for how this lawyer guided thinking ruins trust and good relationships between people. While serving what, exactly? Nothing but those lawyers, their likes and their jobs, if you ask me. It certainly doesn’t improve the world of academics or society in general.
The incident also demonstrates the fallacy of the copyright driven content industries. By pursuing as non nonchalantly as it could to grab full copyrights of the student’s photos, RMIT deprived itself of content it only needed for pure academic work. But just like record companies hardly ever care for the artists, RMIT couldn’t care less about its student. The real victims here? It’s not only the student, whose life was made slightly harder; it is the whole of society, whose advancement is held back by people speaking advanced Legalese and making a killing as they do.

Image by opacity, Creative Commons license

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