Max Hailperin's FTS essay 2 (Fall 2006)

Due October 16, 2006


The motion picture industry could choose to sue ordinary individuals who make copies in their own homes of copyrighted movies, or it could choose only to go after the companies that sell the technology used for copying.

An interesting historical perspective on this question (as well as many others) can be obtained from the testimony that Jack Valenti gave in 1982 to a House subcommittee that was holding hearings on the "home recording of copyrighted works." At the time, Valenti was president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The congressional hearing took place at an interesting time, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had found that Sony's sale of VCRs rendered it liable for contributory copyright infringement, but before the Supreme Court reversed that decision.

You are to use the Internet to find a transcript of that hearing testimony and see what Valenti had to say on the topic of individual infringers. In particular, what did he say about the practices of his own family? Did he offer any justification for those actions? What did he say about the movie industry's stance on suing individual infringers? Also, use the Internet (including databases provided by the Gustavus library) to find news articles from within the last couple years regarding the MPAA and individual infringers. Has there been any change in the MPAA's position?

Using the information you obtained from the sources you found on the Internet, you are to write an informative essay that explains what the situation was in 1982, what the situation is today, and how they compare. You are not supposed to be making any persuasive argument, just summarizing the relevant information for your reader. Although you are not making an argument, your essay should still have an identifiable thesis. For example, your thesis might be "The MPAA's recent stance toward individual infringers closely follows the position that Jack Valenti staked out in 1982: individual infringers ought to be ...." Or perhaps your thesis might be "The MPAA has reversed course since 1982; at that time Jack Valenti supported ... whereas now the MPAA ...." (I do not mean to imply that your thesis should exactly fit into one or the other of these templates. They are just intended to illustrate the notion of a thesis that is informative rather than persuasive.)

Although you are to find your sources of information on the Internet, be sure you look for high quality sources. A published newspaper article would be more appropriate than a blog entry, for example. If you have any question about sources, or are having difficulty locating appropriate ones, I would suggest that you talk with either myself or a reference librarian. Also, you may have some difficulty identifying an appropriate reference style in which to document your source. Lunsford's Everyday Writer has some suggestions, and I would be happy to offer my own thoughts regarding any particular difficulty. The only thing I care about is that you provide sufficiently complete and precise information as to make clear what the source was. The exact format in which that information is conveyed is not important to me.

Your audience for this essay consists of people in the same situation you were before doing this assignment. That is, you can assume the readers have the same sort of understanding of copyright issues as you have obtained through this course. However, you should not assume that they have any prior knowledge of the MPAA's stance on suing individual infringers, whether in 1982 or today.

Evaluation guidelines

Please rewrite your essay until you are convinced that the answer to each of the following questions is “yes.” I urge you to ask a peer to give you feedback as well on whether he or she agrees that all the answers are “yes.” When I grade your essay, I will again use these questions, both to give you feedback and to come up with your letter grade. Specifically, I will start with an A+ and take off one grade “notch” (e.g., from A+ to A, or from A to A-) for each question where the answer is “no”. Be warned that some of the questions are so critical that if the answer is “no,” then one or more additional answers are necessarily also “no.” For example, if the answer to question 1a is “no,” you are doomed for 1b through 1e as well.

  1. Thesis
    1. Does the essay has some specific point it tries to make, discernible to the reader after reading the full essay?
    2. Is that point within the parameters specified by the assignment?
    3. Does the essay stick to that single point?
    4. Is it immediately clear to the reader what point the essay is going to make, without needing to read beyond the first few sentences?
    5. Is the language used to state the thesis clear and straightforward?
  2. Audience
    1. Is the essay consistent in the assumptions it makes about the audience's background knowledge and vocabulary?
    2. Are those assumptions within the parameters specified by the assignment?
  3. Organization
    1. Does the essay have an introduction that lets the reader know what to expect from the essay?
    2. Does the essay have a conclusion that leaves the reader with a satisfied feeling that the matter has been neatly wrapped up?
    3. Does the body of the essay (between the introduction and conclusion) have a discernible organizing principle?
    4. Does each paragraph and each larger organizational unit contain a clear statement of topic, except where there is a good reason to do otherwise?
    5. Are there smooth, sensible transitions from each topic to the next?
  4. Supporting evidence
    1. Is each claim you make backed up by specific supporting evidence?
    2. Have you properly documented the sources of all your evidence, even when that evidence is not directly quoted?
    3. Do you comment upon each quotation or other piece of evidence and work it into the flow of your essay?
  5. Mechanics
    1. Is the grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and typography all good enough to not distract the reader?
    2. Is the writing clear, crisp and direct?