Twelve Brown students received these letters; Mr. McCune ended up paying $3,000 to settle the claim. But the experience made him interested in changing intellectual property regulations. Last spring he co-founded Brown’s chapter of Students for Free Culture, a national organization sprouting up on college campuses that advocates loosening the restrictions of copyright law so that information — from software to music to research to art — can be freely shared.
“The technology has outpaced the law,” said Mr. McCune, who is now a sophomore.
Established at Swarthmore College in 2004, the group has chapters at more than 35 universities across the country. “We will listen to free music, look at free art, watch free film and read free books,” reads its manifesto, posted on its Web site, freeculture.org. “We refuse to accept a future of digital feudalism.”
Members assert that the Internet has made it necessary to rethink copyright law, and they talk about the group’s goals with something like the reverence that earlier generations displayed in talking about social or racial equality.
“People wonder why college students aren’t rallying more around the Iraq war,” Mr. McCune said. “If there were a draft, we probably would be. Students are so quick to fight for this cause because we’re the ones bearing the burden.”
[…] Many chapters have held forums to discuss legal decisions and developments in copyright, frequently debating what it means to “steal” something as amorphous as a digital file.
But in recent months, the group has made a point of branching out beyond music copyrights. At its first national conference, held at Harvard in May and attended by more than 130 people, speakers gave presentations on topics like enhancing Internet access in impoverished countries, and loosening patent regulations for pharmaceutical drugs.
“File-sharing may have brought these issues to public consciousness, but it’s not our only inspiration,” said Elizabeth Stark, founder of Harvard’s Free Culture group.
[…] The movement has its roots in an incident at Swarthmore, when two sophomores posted online internal e-mail messages from Diebold Election Systems, which makes electronic voting machines. The company ordered the students to remove the documents, asserting that the messages were its own intellectual property, and threatening a lawsuit. Instead, the students won a lawsuit against Diebold for abusing copyright law.