Saturday, January 17, 2009

The measure of justice

I read three stories today that had me scratching my head about our justice system.

The first story is a current supreme court case involving a (then) thirteen year old girl who was stripped searched by school officials after a schoolmate implicated her in the distribution of prescription-strength ibuprofen. IBUPROFEN!!! The girl was an honor student who had never had any issue with the administration before the incident. An initial search of her backpack revealed nothing of a suspicious nature. So, she was taken to a room by the school nurse and another female staff member and forced to stripped down to her underwear. They also searched her bra. Again, they were looking for signs of 400mg tablets of IBUPROFEN. At issue is, how far is a school allowed to go in violating one students rights in the defense of the overall safety of the school population?

Do I think that school administrators have the right to strip search a student base solely on the claims of one other student?

In most cases: NO WAY!

As an individual responsible for the safety and rights of all students (including the accused), you need to consider the safety and rights of all parties and weigh the risks and rights.

If one student accused another student of carrying a gun, a body search would be a measured response. The potential risk to the school community is high enough to warrant a potential violation of rights of one student.

If one student accused another student of possessing drugs, say it was even cocaine, a search of the student's backpack/locker may be reasonable. A body search would only be reasonable, in my mind, if there were multiple accusers. And then, I might wait for the police. They are trained in appropriate and legal response to such situations. The student could be held in the school office until the police arrived.

No weapons equals no hurry.

The second story involves the
vandalism of the Washington State Capitol. The offender is an anarchist and well known mixed martial artist, Jeff "The Snowman" Monson. Monson defaced the Capitol with spray painted graffiti. It cost $19,000 to clean up the defacement.

Here's where the questionable justice comes in for me: "If convicted, Monson could face a maximum of 10 years in prison."

Huh? Vandalism of public property can be punishable by 10 years in prison? That seems more than a bit disproportionate to me.

Maybe the law is written in such a way as to encompass every level of vandalism, from breaking a window to covering an entire legislative chamber in cow crap? But, we are talking about vandalism here, right? Not the actual full out destruction of a building. Not the physical harm or endangerment of human beings, right?

The final story is actually one we discussed at the office yesterday. Here is another example of RIAA going overboard on it's response to the illegal exchange of copyrighted music. In SONY BMG Music v. Tenenbaum. The link is to the Boston Globe story regarding the judge's decision to allow streaming video to the Internet for some of the proceedings. The summary of the case from that story is:
Tenenbaum is accused of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004. He offered to settle the case for $500, but music companies rejected that, ultimately demanding $12,000. He could be forced to pay $1 million if it is determined that his alleged actions were willful.

Let me state upfront that I am totally against distribution of media without the consent of the creators of that media. Those who create content should have the right to determine how it is distributed. Distributing such content without the permission of the owners of the rights to do so is a violation of law (copyright and/or piracy, depending on the nuances of the ownership and the distribution there of).

Those on the RIAA side of this argument claim that illegal distribution deprives the owners of a market for their wares. However several surveys have showed that most people who download illegally would not buy the material they are downloading for free if every avenue of illegal downloading dried up.

In addition, chasing after individual young people for six or seven figure payouts is ridiculous. RIAA has dropped a lot of the cases it has brought. Many defendants have settled prior to trial for inflated but non-ridiculous amounts (between $500 and a few thousand dollars by most accounts). These lawsuits are not a deterrent to the behavior by individual 'pirates'. These cases just make RIAA look stupid and they galvanize the pirating community.

In the past, RIAA has tried to include ISPs in its suits. However, most ISPs do not monitor or control the activities of their subscribes enough to prevent piracy behavior on their networks.

Recently, RIAA did sign a graduated response agreement with several major service providers. Once RIAA has notified an ISP of a subscriber's behavior, the ISP will warn the subscriber three times before suspending or canceling their service. Some universities cooperate with RIAA by fining students a few thousand dollars when a violation is documented by RIAA. These responses seem a step in the right direction.

Overall, we have one of the best legal systems in the world. However, today I am reminded that there are still some areas we could improve upon. Scalding hot coffee, anyone?

1 comment:

changejunkie said...

some stuff, it just makes you scratch your head. We have murderers who serve less than 10 years, vandals getting the book thrown at them, kids being stripped searched for aspirin. Hopefully common sense will creep back into the legal system (and our whole society, for that matter).