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More on Lehman High School

Earlier today, I found an anonymous reply from a student at Lehman High School. The student, whom I shall think of as "he" since I have no way of knowing their sex, was annoyed with some of what I had said about their recent copyright infringement case involving the musical Chicago.

I deleted his comment for a few reasons. First of all, I used to require all anonymous posters to identify themselves in the body of their post. This person didn't, and sadly, a lot of people have been ignoring my request. So I've now gone to account holder comments only.

But I also deleted it because the response included insults and foul language. My blog is my space, and I don't allow either of those things here. It says on my profile page that I reserve the right to delete any comments I deem inappropriate. And quite a bit of what this student said was inappropriate.

The fact is, though, that the student did have one legitimate complaint with my post, and a few that bear responding to. Had he replied in a more polite manner, I'd have left his reply up and responded directly. I didn't because I don't choose to leave insults up in my own space. However, should this student actually be checking my blog for a response, I thought I'd reply to some of his concerns.

1. The student complained about my characterization of the students whining to the press. He said that the press came to them, and that they did not whine.

My reply: This is quite possibly a fair point. I don't know how the press got involved, although I suspect that someone from the school got them involved. And I don't know if the students whined. But I do know that almost all the articles I read were biased in favor of the students, presenting their disappointment in such a palpable way that I could practically see their tears in my mind.

And, more to the point, I never said that the students whined to the press. I said that the school did. The student who replied to me does not seem to have caught that distinction in my post.

2. The students said that the New York City council members assisted them without their asking for it.

My reply: Again, that may be true, but it's irrelevant. I never said I was upset at the students for getting the city councilors involved. I said I was upset with the city councilors for choosing to get involved. Again, a distinction that the student seems to have missed.

3. The student suggested that if I wanted them to learn about copyright infringement, I should visit Lehman High School and teach them myself. He also wonders why I'm concerned with the lessons that they learn.

My reply: I'd been a teacher for many years, and I was always responsible for making sure that my students knew much more than the material I was technically teaching them. But in this case, it's not really my responsibility to teach the students of Lehman High about respecting copyright law. Frankly, in this particular case that's the job of the drama department. I don't think the student quite got that.

As for why I'm concerned with the lessons that they learn -- why shouldn't I be? If a school in Kansas chooses to teach intelligent design instead of evolution, for example, that has a detrimental effect on society as a whole. In this case, a school in the Bronx has taught a bunch of students that if you're caught breaking the law, you can still get away with it if you get powerful people on your side. To me, that's a chilling lesson, and not one we should be teaching our future voters.

To my correspondent: if you're still out there, I hope you'll take these replies into consideration. And if you wish to provide further correction and detail on just how the press got involved, I'd be more than interested in finding out. Just please be polite about it.

And finally, if any other students from Lehman High are reading my blog, please take note: I don't blame you for what happened, and I'm glad you got a chance to see all your hard rehearsal work pay off in the end. But I hope that you will take from this a better lesson than the one I'm afraid you've been taught, which is that it's easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. I know of many other students who would have loved to perform in a school musical version of Chicago and were denied the chance because their schools obeyed the law and respected creators' rights. One day, one of you may be the famous playwright who discovers a school putting on one of your plays without permission. When that happens, I hope you'll choose to be as generous with that school as the producers of Chicago were with you. Because if you're not, then that would be hypocritical.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein


While I can understand the students anger, given all the wasted rehearsal and their hopes being dashed, I can't help but fault the school for this. They should have known that they could not produce the play without permission. The producers of Chicago did the only thing available to them, they caved to the pressure applied by the press. Part of me wishes that they didn't cave, but the reality is they would have taken a beating if they didn't.

And you're right, I hope that the students learn more from this than that those that whine the most get their way. That's a lesson, I'm afraid, children today are learning all too well. I honestly am worried about the way things are going these days.
Oh, I completely believe the school is at fault. Especially given the fact that the press quoted the principal as saying that they had been putting on plays for 27 years without ever securing rights to do so. At the very least, the school administration and drama teacher would appear to be guilty of ignorance. And ignorance of the law is no excuse.

What really bothered me about the student's reply was his insulting and abusive tone. If he had started his post with something like, "Mr. Burstein, I think you're misrepresenting what happened, let me explain..." I would have been a lot more respectful of him. But his tone and attitude -- thinking that an appropriate reply was to give verbal abuse to a stranger -- does make me wonder what they are teaching there.
Well, having grown up with a father teaching High School (yes, even me!) I've had a lot of experience with the various faculty. It's been my experience that principals, for the most part, are only there because of 'who they know' and usually aren't the most social of creatures. So I'm not too shocked by how he acted. Which is a sad statement on our educational system.

This makes me wonder if all the plays my HS did were done legally.
I'm always reminding of how theatre companies in the United States pirated the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. That was one of the reasons why they wrote an opera called The Pirates of Penzance; they had pirates on their mind.


Technically Pirates of Penzance is an operetta

Re: pedant

Ah, but technically isn't an operetta just a subset of opera? :-)

Re: pedant

Opera can be used as an umbrella term for classic opera, rock opera, operetta/light opera, etc. But it is usually preferable to use the most specific term when possible.

This problem of a term referring both to a specific and a general thing occurs in music a lot. For example, I listen to classical music. This is a true statement, but I also listen to Baroque, Rennaissance, and Romantic-Era music. Classical being used as the name of the genre is actually somewhat misleading, though I don't know that there is a good alternative. The problem is at some point it becomes difficult to define what the genre "classical" encompasses. In real life, I'm an InfoSec professional... a large part of what I do is teach people to clearly define system boundaries. A term like "classical" does not clearly define the boundary of the genre. There are several subsets of so-called "classical" music that I do not care for. But what if I only liked classical-era classical music? How would I make that clear to you when I said, "I like classical music." It is awkward to say, "I like music from the classical period."

Similarly, someone who likes Gilbert and Sullivan does not necessarily like operatic music in general. My father adores G&S and other operettas but detests all other forms of opera.

Anywho, I digress. I'm far from your original point.
Props to you, as I'm not sure I could have separated the good points from the tone enough to delete the comment but still reply to it; I think I would have done one or the other.

There's a weird paradox in his saying that if you want them to learn about copyright you should come teach them yourself, but at the same time asking why you care, but it feels like that's what it means to be a teenager: either do it for me, if it matters that much, or get off my back about it. *sigh*

It's amazing how many cases of young people violating copyright have suddenly hit the news at once. Maybe it was having a playwright mom, but I thought my school also did a good job of drilling into me that turning in someone else's paper or photocopying a book instead of paying for it was wrong, and that FBI warnings preface movies for a reason.
I debated about replying, given the tone. But having worked with teenagers for much of my life, I decided that I wanted to reach out. If there's even a chance that the students will come back here to read this reply, then perhaps we can engage in a productive dialogue.

I suspect, though, that he isn't going to come back, and even if he does, with anonymous comment blocking I have no idea how he would respond, if he wanted to. But at least this way he knows that I was perfectly willing to take some of his points seriously.
Fortunately, there's another high school that is teaching its students the severity of trademark violation.

December 2016

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