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Yale censored a student's course catalog site. I made an unblockable replacement (haufler.org)
775 points by shaufler on Jan 19, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 199 comments

When I first left America, I disliked and felt disillusioned with the country.

I've now spent more of my adult life outside the States than in the U.S., and I've also come to the opinion that the U.S. is one of the most amazing places in the world.

Sometimes it's hard to point to exactly why America is so amazing. And the answer, maybe, is on display here.

An undergraduate student at an elite university just innovatively, publicly, aggressively pushed back against the Dean.

He cited his values and reasoning for doing so. He took care to make sure his work wouldn't damage their physical resources or break the letter of the law. And then he openly acknowledges they could punish him, and welcomes the attempt.

And it's not really even a big deal. It's just standard being-an-American stuff.

All kinds of bad things in the States. And sometimes the spirit of defiance can get tired or come across overbearing. But it's really cool that it's a regular, run of the mill occurrence for people to push back against norms and restrictions in American society without any fear of long-term repercussions.

It's also really, really, really weird. Seriously, stop and reflect on this for a moment. I spend a lot of time in Asia, and doing this in just about any Asian country would ruin a lot of your life prospects.

And for us, it's just a matter of course. How strange. And wonderful.

You could read it that way, or you could say that this miniscule altercation between a student and the dean of an Ivy League university, both part of an elite group that knows little about the real struggles the rest of the world faces on a daily basis, has been elevated to something important while its not and it's been given way too much attention than it deserves. How many college campuses and universities in the world struggle with real problems with real consequences to society like female students getting raped in dark alleys and fraud/bribery/plagiarism and never get the attention they deserve?

The fact that this inconsequential squabble gets discussed so much and gets portrayed as the fight between David and "Goliath The Man", instead of being seen as a public tantrum being thrown by a spoiled kid living a cushioned life inside a cocoon made out of hopes and dreams, makes me sick to my stomach.

Taking that line of reasoning to its conclusion, there can only be one worst thing that happened to someone in the history of the world, and every other person's problems pale in comparison and are therefore inconsequential and should be brushed off as first-world problems.

Sure, taking things to the extremes has been proved to be the best way to start a discussion and the only sure way to show an unbiased view of the facts at hand.

I'm impressed by your incredible level-headedness, sir.

Well, and who better than you to decide what's biased and what's not? And what could be more level-headed than to say that "[the matter at hand] makes me sick to my stomach"?

Leaving snark aside, it seems telling that both your leveller's bias, and your repellent pride in same, are entirely compatible in your own mind with the sort of "let's all be grown-ups here, shall we?" pose you take one comment later. "Unbiased" and "level-headed", it seems, mean exactly what you define them to mean, and you define them to mean being entirely in agreement with how you yourself regard these matters. I find this rather marvelous, or would if it weren't so lamentably common.

Sir, if I preoperly recall, that's exactly how you discard premises. Taking a premise and applying it to a more extreme situation just battletests it. It's done in justice and law courses, etc.

"If the common good justifies killing X agent, then it must be ok for a doctor to kill a patient in their sleep, take his organs and save three people with his two kidneys and heart."

Also, what Yale did wasn't right, and the students just defend themselves... If, for example, you were robbed wouldn't you care? "Oh but there are thousands more people poorer than me, I shouldn't bother".

"Taking a premise and applying it to a more extreme situation just battletests it. It's done in justice and law courses, etc."

I'm really interested in this sentence/concept - is there a term for this or anywhere I can read more about the concept behind this statement?

I based that statement on what I saw in Michael Sandel's HarvardX (edX partner) Justice course. There's a lot of thought experiments and hypothetical situations premises are tested against to see if they still hold to be moral; really interesting.

"If the common good justifies killing X agent, then it must be ok for a doctor to kill a patient in their sleep, take his organs and save three people with his two kidneys and heart."

Isn't that a variation of a semantic shift fallacy? [1]

--- [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change

I just read the link and I am not following your reasoning. Please explain.

Just an FYI: that wiki link does not seem to lead to an article about the fallacy in question, or any kind of fallacy for that matter. You might have been thinking about the continuum fallacy[1], false equivocation, straw man, or red herring. In any regard, I agree that the reasoning in question falls within the bounds of one or other informal fallacies[2].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuum_fallacy

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_fallacy

> a spoiled kid living a cushioned life inside a cocoon

Oh, I wasn't aware that you knew the author of blog post and software. Was he really very spoiled as a child?

(I'm assuming you knew him, based on your comment, because surely you're not blanket-judging everyone who goes to a top-tier or Ivy League school as a coddled little brat with a silver spoon and an insular view of the world? Such a judgment would not even be correct to first order.)

The basic idea here is that cliveowen becomes distressed when people that he is jealous of dare complain about anything. There is nothing deeper going on here.

Perhaps you see it as a minuscule altercation because you compare it to rape, fraud, bribery, plagiarism, but is it really "minuscule?"

The fact is, we live in a society where it is virtually required to stand up for ones self. Regardless of rape, fraud, bribery, etc. every person in a democratic society needs to stand up for what they feel is right. If you feel that it is wrong that fraud is happening, go ahead attempt to make a difference, you'll make the NEWS as well.

The reason that this is making NEWS is that these kids are willing to stand up for themselves even if it gets them kicked out of school (which by the way is not exactly a minuscule event).

It seems to me that you are attempting to compare a dispute amongst intellectuals with the rabbles of society. This is not a fair comparison, the fact is you are right everything you listed should get the attention they deserve and believe it or not they do. Would you really like to sit on Hacker News and just read about rapes all day, or plagiarism? It is not NEWS because there is little that can be done, we have systems in place (and continue to improve systems) to minimize "bad behavior."

In this case, Yale is actually abusing those systems (in many peoples eyes) and that is why it is making NEWS. Yale has an issue with seemingly abusing its power, this in my opinion, is wrong for the same reasons as rape, fraud, bribery, or plagiarism, it reduces our freedoms and "cheats" us. In this case, the ones being cheated are the Yale students, in the case of plagiarism it's perhaps the company that hires the plagiarizing student (or the student body when he fails at his job).

My point, is that you are so quick to make the assertion that this is a "minuscule altercation" without truly taking the time to consider that each altercation such as this is a battle for ones personal freedoms (similar to battling against plagiarism, bribery, fraud, or rape).

I do consider rape a far more extreme version of reducing ones freedom, but it is still so horrible because it takes away choice and in turn ones freedom.

Wow, you make a lot of assumptions here. Ignoring all of that, what the parent finds striking is the mentality. It doesn't matter of this is a fight for civil liberties or a "miniscule" (sic) squabble, as you put it. The idea that a student can and will stand up against authority over something he believes in is not commonplace in every country around the globe.

Why you felt the need to use that idea to bash on (your stereotypical view of) ivy leaguers is beyond me.

I agree that this case has received much more publicity than it deserves. But I also agree with mindcrime's point, admire the student's actions, and am grateful to live in a country where the consequences to the student are likely to be mild.

What do you think is actually going on here? Have these student gone on a hunger strike or stopped going to classes? Furthermore, are you saying that serious issues like sexual assault and academic dishonesty are not receiving attention at Yale? (Hint: you can browse the Yale Daily News[1] to find out)

What is making you sick to your stomach, anyway?

If it is the time spent on this project, how many hours did any of them actually spend? I think it's fun to go out to a bar with friends, and I even like entertainment where I do nothing other than sit or stand in the audience. I don't think those activities create much value for society, and I'm not even helping some classmates save time when picking out their classes, yet I don't think that's making anyone sick to their stomachs.

If it is the defiance of superiors, the two categories of crimes you mentioned are specifically relevant. Whether its a student, a gang on a bus, a soldier or a priest committing the crime, it isn't only about the force used at the time of the assault, but the complicity of the authorities that are in the habit of operating without oversight from the people they presume to serve.

When you describe the students as "spoiled", and the issues they think important as inconsequential without coming down on a side, it makes it sound like it would be better if they were paralyzed with awe over their good fortune, or at the very least deferential to the closest thing they can find to patrons. What is a "cocoon of hopes and dreams"? I think it is an objection to the students being idealistic, but the alternatives to serving ideals that I can think of are being self-congratulatory, or seeking for validation from superiors instead.

As for academic dishonesty[2], how do you think entire labs publish fraudulent papers other than through deference to authority? It seems less likely that some PhD candidate tricks everyone else in the lab, than that a PhD candidate slowly comes to the realization that his PI is sloppy and then that he is actively twisting or manufacturing results. What does the candidate do when his career would be interrupted if he becomes known for blowing the whistle on someone who gave him a position. How about the consideration that his career will be significantly tarnished if the person he trained under becomes known as a fraud? In such a case, it's probably just a lot easier to keep it in perspective as a case of academic honesty, rather than complicating it with trying to figure out who he owes your loyalty or respect to.

And finally, the third possibility for bellyache I can think of is that people are paying so much attention to this issue. That one shouldn't take much time to address. The issue is a pretty good proxy for describing the difference between a society (and economy) that is permission based or not. Hacker News is a community for people who see themselves as hackers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. While it is difficult to prove that disruption is always good, or even good on balance, that it is is pretty close to being the identifying major premise for a community like this.

In a very general sense I'm not sure that course ratings don't discourage diverse educational experiences and students from choosing classes best tailored to their individual talents. On the other hand, I also assume Yale students are sophisticated enough to take the ratings for what they're worth, and either way I'm saying that it is an issue worth considering, not one that makes me sick to my stomach to hear discussed.

[1] http://yaledailynews.com/

[2] http://retractionwatch.com/

People are varied just about everywhere. I've also spent a bit of time overseas and one attitude I rarely find and sometimes miss is the American style rock-n-roll fuck authority I'm gonna do what I want attitude. There are similar attitudes elsewhere, but they're a bit different than the American one.

And I agree, in Asia, it's very absent. I used to be surprised when I'd see an interview with some very hard rock band in Asia and they'd spend the interview quietly bowing and talking more or less like the proper primped pop-idol they just had on. It felt like the rock image was just a costume rather than being the free spirit of the person coming out. I've seen so many occasions in Asia where a situation called for an American style go fuck yourself response and it never appeared. I think a great many of the social ills you find in Confucian countries could be resolved with a sprinkle of American style rock and roll.

You're right though, taking that kind of life approach in Asia can be a life destroyer. In America there's enough of a critical mass of people who have and understand that kind of approach to life, and accept it in others, that you can be that way and find enough of a support network to still live a good life.

Europeans, in my observation, have a different kind of attitude. It's more of a fuck the old guard, fuck the status quo attitude that's probably informed by the last couple hundred years of European history. It can take on many of the same kinds of symbols and stylings as the American rock n roll way, but I think it has different goals and expected outcomes.

I also agree that the American attitude, while good for some things, can become boring and tiresome when it turns into stupid contrariness for the sake of being oppositional.

If I had to summarize European vs NAmerican, I'd say European is more group-based whereas in the USA it's almost always about the individual (even group protests feel more like a lot of individuals than a single group). Anecdotally, as an European, I can say that I always have a gut feeling of distrust when I meet someone very charismatic or who clearly loves going at things alone.

Without diminishing what you say, it happens in other democratic countries as well. In many Latin American universities (and even lower education) the students are a force to be reckoned with. For example, in recent years a student coalition demonstrated against the education policies of former president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, and it was a major crisis.

Similar demonstrations can happen against, for example, the principal of a university or school in other countries. The students protest even when they risk being expelled.

The US seems mild in comparison...

Not to say that group action is bad, part of the point of the top comment is that this is an individual action, and it would be relatively easy to bring the hammer of authority down on this one person, which is a distinguishing factor here. Moreover, (and possibly easier because it's a single indvidual) the ethical rationale are listed in a declaratory form, which is not always the case in mass student actions.

Not to be pedantic, but Piñera at this very moment is still governing and Michelle Bachelet has not taken his post yet.

True! I forgot he wasn't out yet (I'm not from Chile).

> I've now spent more of my adult life outside the States than in the U.S., and I've also come to the opinion that the U.S. is one of the most amazing places in the world.

Yes. The American backed/sponsored slaughter of innocent men, women, and children across the Middle East and Africa in the name of profit, power, and greed doesn't seem to cross your mind. Also, it's clear that as an American you have free speech, but Americans who speak too freely might not wake up to see tomorrow [1] [2]

[1] http://www.globalresearch.ca/who-killed-michael-hastings/535... [2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/22/white-house-dro...

When comparing things (the US is one of the most amazing places in the world -> the US is amazing in comparison to most places) it's usually more important to focus on differences rather than similarities.

State-sponsored slaughter of innocent people in the Middle East and Africa is a pastime enthusiastically practiced by Canada and all of the "important" European nations (UK, Germany, France, and to a lesser extent Scandinavians) not just by the US.

Could I get a Citation on Canada slaughtering innocent people in both the Middle East and Africa? I wasn't aware they had a deployed army large enough to be involved in "slaughtering" - and I know they declined to support the United States Incursion into Iraq - So I'm wondering where you are going with this...

Canada has been a willing participant in Afghanistan[1] and as complicit as most of the world is in relations with Saudi Arabia.[2] While complicitness is not the same a direct action, it furthers the argument that I wish to make - in international relations, there is no such thing as clean hands.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada's_role_in_the_Afghanista... - [2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada%E2%80%93Saudi_Arabia_rel...

I know Canada is involved in Afghanistan. Attacks on United States in 2001 were based from Afghanistan. Afghanistan defended the probable leaders of attack. Canada is a member of NATO, and responded in what most would consider a "Just War.", for better or worse.

But, irrespective of all that - Afghanistan is in Asia.

I'm wondering if you could point to any indication of Canadian Forces slaughtering innocent people in the Middle East or Africa in the last 10 years? Curious, more than anything else.

Iraq pales in comparison to the deaths caused by European colonialism in Africa (or pretty much anywhere else in the world).

Beyond that - Saddam killed roughly 10 [1][2] times as many people as were killed as a direct result of the invasion of Iraq - and most of those deaths we're as a result of sectarian violence - not direct action by the US Forces.

When it comes down to it, war is messy business - regardless of the causes of it - I was opposed to the war in Iraq - I rightly predicted it would turn into my generations Vietnam - but in the end, the die is cast.

In re your first link - I wouldn't call global research a unbiased or objective source by any measure, period. [3]

In re your second link - show me a single country that guarantees the rights of its citizens when outside of the nominal borders of its country, and when those citizens are committing what would amount to acts of war against their country of citizenship.

I believe strongly in the right of free speech, and I've seen very few cases in my own country where those rights have been abridged or denuded in any way.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Body_Count_project#Body_co... - [2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Saddam_Hussein'... - [3]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalresearch.ca

What you said doesn't contradict what he was saying. It's certainly possible that the most amazing country in the world also slaughters innocents in the Middle East and Africa.

> The American backed/sponsored slaughter of innocent men, women, and children

I'm pretty sure that the innocent men, women and children who have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not systematically slaughtered, and in fact I do believe that the American military made every reasonable effort to minimize civilian casualties.

> across the Middle East and Africa

Can you go into more detail what, exactly, you mean by that? Two countries -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- is hardly "across the Middle East," and neither of them is in Africa.

> in the name of profit, power, and greed

I thought our activities in the Middle East were in the name of preventing future terrorist attacks.

It's because of "standard being-an-American stuff" that people could possibly stand up to entrenched political and financial interests and have a hope of stopping them, which we do.

You hatred of America is because of its core founding beliefs. You just don't have the courage to say it.

Yeah, no one else could ever think of doing something like this. Imagine someone in Europe, LOL! They just don't have the same standards for freedom or patriotism (as in standing up to defend our constitution) overseas!

Oh America, the land of the free and the home of the brave!

edit: Of course let's make it clear that America means the United States of America here. In Brazil or Chile people just would not care!

<irony tag> just in case some people read that straight up

good work, sir!

I'm British and I did things like this constantly throughout school and university.

Then again, people do keep asking if I am American...

"Student protest" is such a common phrase in the UK (or at least it used to be) that I'm surprised it doesn't auto-complete on Google.

I did find myself wondering about what students protest about these days, and found this example (from 2009):

"Students who occupied their university for three days to save its cleaners from being deported claimed victory today. Up to 60 students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London took over the principal's office on Monday."


Students protesting to try and protect some of the least powerful people in our society - now that's a student protest.

Edit: Here is a recent example from France where students protest against a deportation of someone to Kosovo:


here in the UK the Education Act 1986 makes it a duty of a University to safeguard its members freedom of speech (within the law), and makes it unlawful for a University to do what Yale did here.


I'm sure the Yale bureaucracy likewise has reams of paper scribbled with words like "academic freedom" and "free discourse". What's interesting is that people are actively defending these principles at personal cost -- not idly hoping for some high hallowed office to dole them out. That's the observation.

if you wish to be pedantic they seem to be working around the university using clever technical hacks, rather than fighting the underlying issue.

(note that it's the law in the UK, not some worthless university document)

This is an active and vibrant defense of freedom, not some worthless British law.

(Oh I'm sorry, did I just libel Her Majesty's judicial system? How careless of me. I should watch what I write).

> This is an active and vibrant defense of freedom, not some worthless British law.

> (Oh I'm sorry, did I just libel Her Majesty's judicial system? How careless of me. I should watch what I write).

guess I missed the bit of the US constitution where other people's databases were considered protected speech.

> (Oh I'm sorry, did I just libel Her Majesty's judicial system? How careless of me. I should watch what I write).

Look, this is getting old. We had a massive libel reform which, while not as revolutionary as many people wanted, still made significant changes, and you are doing the thousands of people that worked hard to make that happen a giant disservice. Please read up on the status quo before making cheap jabs.

Wait, why is the British law worthless? I'm assuming I'm mistaken, but your claim seems to be solely on the fact you can commit libel from what seems to be the USA on a website not hosted in the UK. That would seem to imply our entire legal system is broken because we don't censor other countries publications, and it'd obviously be interesting to hear the justification behind that.

"but your claim seems to be solely on the fact you can commit libel from what seems to be the USA on a website not hosted in the UK."

We're sidetracked, but that's pretty much the definition of libel tourism, and the UK is notorious for it:


The UK routinely finds libel judgements against non-Britons, outside of Britain, having essentially no connection with the UK. It's an extremely broken system responsible for widespread legal harassment outside of Britain (examples in article).

It's not enforceable in the US obviously. There's a US law that explicitly prohibits that, provoked by a particularly egregious case.


Nitpick: You're talking about England and Wales, not the UK. In this part of the UK it's not even called "libel".

Thanks, didn't know this!

It's OK - I believe the French used to have saying along the lines of "As touchy as a Scot"... :-)

Although it's less applicable to folks not at the university who are talking about it.

Over 10 years ago, I ran a site which collected community anecdotes of the interview process at various universities, mostly focusing on Oxbridge colleges. The aim was to open up information that was often passed down between alumni of private schools where there was a tradition of attending those colleges -- leaving people like me, with no alumni to talk to, in the dark about what the interview process would be like.

I got several threatening letters from deans at the various colleges, and had a long process of trying to decide what to do. I didn't make any money off the site and couldn't afford legal help, so I ended up taking down a couple of the anecdotes when one college was particularly nasty, but for the most part ignored the threats. Ended up handing the site over to someone else as I was focusing on my university work and less involved in the admissions phase of things, and I'm happy to see it's still alive :)

Yale seems to be claiming that this website uses Yale's data in violation of their terms of service or their copyrights, that is to say, that such use was not within the law. I don't see how this law would prevent a UK university from acting in exactly the same way.

(This section of the 1986 act, BTW, was introduced in response to anti-apartheid protesters disrupting speeches by members of the South African government, in order to require universities to stop such protests. It's not at all a pro-free-speech law.)

> It's just standard being-an-American stuff. [...] it's really cool that it's a regular, run of the mill occurrence for people to push back against norms and restrictions in American society without any fear of long-term repercussions.

It's standard privileged American stuff. It's great that this guy can push back, but try being a Spanish-speaking factory temp trying to push back and get proper training and safety equipment, or try being a waitress at a bar trying to push back against harassing customers and mistreatment from management. Some people's lives depend on buckling under; they don't get to do the pushing because they will lose their jobs.

Please don't pollute this thread with the social justice warrior stuff. The student could be punished and people that don't speak English or want a different waitressing job aren't helpless.

An understanding that social position gives you power and options that others without your advantages of birth may lack is not "social justice warrior" stuff, it's basic sense.

I'm not familiar with Sean Haufler's "advantages of birth". If you are familiar with him and his family, and feel it would be appropriate to this discussion, then have at it I guess.

He got into Yale and you're wondering what advantages he has?

Let's set aside for a second the high-end schools' tendency towards legacy admissions, which clearly isn't going to be biased towards the children of the upper class who are certainly not predominantly white and loaded (that smell is not the dog, folks, it's sarcasm). Have you seen the demographics of Yale[1]? Even just racial demographics put WTFs to this[2]. 7% of Yale students are black--16% of Americans born between 1992 and 1996 are black (and overwhelmingly poor). 9% of Yale students are Hispanic. 14% of Americans born between 1992 and 1996 are Hispanic (and are comparatively only often poor). Does that seem like it makes sense to you if certain populations weren't getting advantages based on external factors?

"They pick the best" often comes up as a possibility to answer that. Because they sort of do, social signaling aside (and Haufler is white and male so he's a few rungs up that ladder too). But isn't it funny how "the best" generally also correlates to "white or Asian and rich"? SAT scores against income[3] are pretty indicative; SAT against racial demographics[also 3] likewise. This is not hard: non-Asian minorities are overwhelmingly more likely to be really-goddam-poor than whites and Asians and are much more likely to score like shit on the signaling tests that are your ticket to the upper-crust-signaling environment of a Yale. (And, as mentioned, even poor whites are more likely to have the social signals that are attractive to groups that select for "their type of people"--like, you know, most societal gatekeepers.) The conflation of economic and social advantages what makes these people privileged.

Crack babies don't get into Yale[4]. Children of illegal immigrants don't get into Yale. People who grow up in extreme poverty don't get into Yale. That doesn't make people who get into Yale bad but it does mean that they have advantages that need to be recognized over the girl who didn't get the opportunity to learn English or the guy who didn't get the opportunity to grow up in a safe environment where school was valued. Or, y'know, their kids when it's their turn to not be even remotely close to the "right stuff" for Yale.

And this is what the guy you dismissively shat on for no good reason understands: that it's important for us, as people with incredible luck and massive advantages, aware that no, not everyone has these advantages, and so it behooves us to do right by them, too. What Haufler did is cool and it sucks that his amazingly selective private school got frowny at a student for a similar project, but as injustices go, this shit's pretty small--if he's of a mind to, he's gonna walk out of college into a job making no less than the eighty-eighth percentile of individual income in this country[5]. Having your kids be nearly guaranteed to do no better, and probably worse, than you did, in a system designed to keep you where you are? That's pretty big. That's what he's saying. That's what's actually important.


[1] http://oir.yale.edu/yale-factsheet

[2] http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/pop3.asp

[3] http://domesatreview.com/content/sat-test-demographics-incom...

[4] Oh please please please be the person who thinks two counterexamples invalidate statistics please please please it's been too long. Please and thank you.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_S...

"You're wondering what advantages he has?"

No, I wasn't. I don't pretend to know anything about this student. I suppose I could put him into a box and make a bunch of assumptions based on the obvious stats, but that's not how I view people. Every individual has their own life story. So, when I see a woman, a Hispanic person, etc. I don't see a victim or someone who's disadvantaged. You have a different view and that's fine.

That's a very convenient way to not have to address gaping societal problems.

Actually, you've found a convenient way to elevate yourself to the role of hero while looking down on an entire gender and other races. Must feel great.

I'm not a hero. I'm aware of the advantages I have by winning the parental lottery. And I also understand that people who think saying "we treat people who aren't like us like shit and it's magnified across generations" is "looking down" have a vested interest continued societal unfairness.

Nobody issues this diatribe about Sonia Sotomayor, and she went to Yale. I would welcome it if you started doing this.

See [4] and try harder.

> It's just standard being-an-American stuff.

This kind behavior is probably more typical in the US than in Asia, but even more so in, let's say, France or the UK. I would say that many European countries have more individualism and freedom of expression than the US.

Now if only US can maintain that. The trend is certainly not in its favor. Corrupt media who doesn't tend to cover stuff that truly hurt the government's power, the rise of the police/SWAT state, the rise of the surveillance state, the upcoming conflict over what drones can or can not do in US, and so on.

I really wish some US americans value it more.

Living for 3 years in US, loved the country and its infrastructure/legal system, country, people all of it.

It is not perfect but still is one the best we have.

Do you think NSA and military are ''bad'' you did not know what the other countries counterpart do (hint... worse and mean)

What county did you live in before?


With the whole populism thing..

As another American, I completely agree that this is wonderful. We both like this behavior because it's in accordance with our culture and values. But the example of Asian culture that you bring up is interesting.

Japan (and to some extent China) are undeniably successful countries/cultures. Yet I'd guess that if a student acted this way there, he or she wouldn't be able to find a job. How do we know that having undue respect for hierarchy is objectively a bad thing?

How do we know that having undue respect for hierarchy is objectively a bad thing?

I'd say China in the late Qing Dynasty would be a good data point for it being a bad thing. Or a compare-and-contrast of Spain and the Netherlands in the early modern period.

With respect to Japan, yeah, we think of it as super-hierarchical. Then again, Japan had two major hierarchy-toppling social revolutions pretty recently. First the military-imperial apparatus toppled the feudal nobility during the Meiji Restoration. Then General McArthur toppled the military-imperial apparatus during the American occupation. So, perhaps the slope of the long term trend line is as important as the current value?

You're obviously delusional because something something NSA war on drugs war on terror civil liberties TSA government.

(Also, it's not just Asian countries, there are some Western countries where your life would be ruined as well.)

> without any fear of long-term repercussions

Would you consider being investigated by the FBI as a possible terrorism threat[1] a long-term repercussion?

[1]: http://www.justiceonline.org/commentary/fbi-files-ows.html

Very cool, I love this approach as it is very similar to how my (now defunct) unedditreddit app worked and how a clever app called socialfixer for facebook works. Two thoughts.

1. You are not unblockable. My app was removed from the chrome app store after reddit complained, no review process, no appeals, good luck even communicating with google. Installing an app not from the appstore is almost impossible for a non-savvy user. I suggest looking at a firefox app, their app story is much more democratic.

2. I think this fight is important because a lot of companies/organizations seem to be trying to establish the precedent that they own their website experience end to end, from database to the pixels on your screen. That idea taken to the extreme will lead to computers become opaque devices ala a TV, rather than the hackable playground they are now.


>Installing an app not from the appstore is almost impossible for a non-savvy user.

I would post a video demonstrating step-by-step how to install non-approved apps in Chrome. Download the app. Open chrome://extensions. Tick Developer mode. Drag the app from your Download folder to the extensions page. Enjoy those nicely summarized ratings!

Actually, here are two existing videos on the subject:



Hopefully, if a user is savvy enough to get into Yale, those instructions would suffice.

Just be aware that your instructions may have to change soon; Google is slated to start blocking all local extensions unless users install the Dev or Canary channel builds on Windows [1].

[1] http://thenextweb.com/google/2013/11/07/google-block-local-c...

Sounds like a matter† for the MSFT legal department. I'm rarely in MSFT's corner, but this would an exception.


Only to be told that they have to open up their Windows 8 Store App installation model as well? I don't think so.

The no-freedom-to-install-whatever-you-want movement is deeply entrenched in the IT behemoths.

That's fine, I suspect the %age of Windows users at Yale is fairly small.

Finding the instructions when you know what to look for is easy; the hard part is knowing that it's possible and to look for it at all

I believe unedditreddit was removed due to trademark issues, but I could be wrong. As this extension does not have any of Yale's trademarks within and (demonstrably, based on source) does not impact the site, Yale should not have a leg to stand on.

But your point about doing it in Firefox is a very good one. Firefox's extension addons site is much more democratic. And side-loading extensions within Firefox outside of addons.mozilla.org is something even an inexperienced user can accomplish.

That possibility probably didn't help, but eventually somebody from google told me they wouldn't bring the app back even if I changed the name.

You bring up another interesting point about impact to the yale site though. This app does impact the yale site, by having clients issue extra ajax requests. It not an unreasonable load but I wonder if that might muddle the issue again.

For unedditreddit I was able to completely prevent the app from creating extra load by distributing scraping among clients only already visiting the page. I wonder if the same idea could work for the evaluation data?

I'm impressed you even got word one from Google, but out of curiosity, did they ever say why they wouldn't bring back your app, or did they just leave it at "because f you"?

The difference is that in the Yale case, the creators of the data want it to be consumed.

Whereas UER was making a copy of and serving content against its authors' wishes.

It is not that black and white though. So many comments are are deleted by moderators for baloney reasons. Moderators have become the new digg power users and they are really hurting reddit. See the recent standupshots controversy.

What about highly upvoted/downvoted comments that are then edited to reverse or change the sentiment. Other conversation participants have no right to see the original context?

To be fair there are good reasons to have some deleted comments and this is probably not the right place for a debate, but it is not that cut and dry.

As an aside, I've found the whole unedditreddit ride extremely interesting I hope its not the worst thing you had to deal with.


> What about highly upvoted/downvoted comments that are then edited to reverse or change the sentiment.

This is why it pays to quote context in Internet discussions.

> I am a monkey

As a side note, it would be really useful if there was some way of quoting context that didn't trivially lend itself to forging context... (though admittedly that's a much smaller problem).

Simple solution: store the comment revisions, and when you go to a reply, allow the user to see the revision that was active when the reply was posted.

Simpler solution: Leave things the way they are. It doesn't make sense to dramatically increase your storage costs and UI complexity over a feature 99% of your users don't care about and a substantial number will actually be annoyed by.

You have bigger fish to fry.

Or just disallow edits.

> That idea taken to the extreme will lead to computers become opaque devices ala a TV, rather than the hackable playground they are now.

Which is funny, seeing how Tivo got into the end-to-end experience on TV.

Just because the Extension is removed from the "play store" doesn't mean it's unattainable. You can still distribute Chrome Extensions from a third party site, of course they can take steps to get your take it off of your site, but one would assume that college students who want to use this could simply share it via email or simply on a USB stick.

There will be always the alternative of writing a pure desktop application for such things.

Here is a repo I posted a django addon that packages and installs plugins. Only supports chrome right now. https://github.com/jbcurtin/Deployment

An interesting and apparently well executed effort. But, to be honest, your arguments reek of ignorance.

> This is an unfortunate outcome, since Yale’s copyright assertion muddles the argument that Yale’s actions violate Peter and Harry’s freedom of speech.

No it doesn't. Whatever Yale's responsibilities in the freedom-of-speech realm may be, they are entirely ethical in nature, as freedom of speech in the legal sense refers only to what governments may not suppress. Holding the copyright to something does not in any way affect ones responsibility to behave ethically.

> If Yale grants students access to data, the university does not have the right to specify exactly how students must view the data.

Under U.S. law they may very well have the right; I wouldn't know. What you may have demonstrated is that they do not have the ability.

May I suggest that you do not couch your arguments in terms of fallacious claims about freedom of speech. Rather, talk about academic freedom, a principle -- though not a legal one -- that Yale ostensibly seeks to uphold.

Freedom of Speech is not a legal right, it is an ethical right. It predates its US First Amendment codification by several hundred years and is also legally expressed in many other countries. To use your words, may I suggest you do not couch your arguments in terms of fallacious claims about freedom of speech?

I don't think commentators who decried Yale's hypocrisy were claiming that Yale violated the first amendment rights of the students. They were saying that the same people who fought vociferously for scores of years to secure their freedom of expression were quite quick to trample it when exercised by non-PhDs. I think this is a valid criticism.

Yes, one might even go as far to say that it's an inalienable right.

Do we disagree about something? If so, honestly I don't know what it is.

American freedom of speech is actually a legal right, and has been limited in application to public entities in the US (with limited exceptions).

> legally expressed in many other countries


I'm only asking because that's not the case in most of Europe.


Re: Europe: the European Convention on Human Rights says, in Article 10: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises."

All of the members of the European Union are signatories to the ECHR.

Also, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union says, in Article 11:

    1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
    2. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.
I'm not European, so my opinion on how closely governments stick to these laws doesn't really apply. I'm just pointing out the laws.

Holocaust denial is illegal in many EU countries, and swastika/Nazi flags are illegal in a few as well. So, obviously, freedom of speech isn't the highest priority.

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." (attributed to Aristotle)

Defamation is illegal, so obviously freedom of speech isn't the highest priority in the US.

(I'm just trying to show you that there are limits on what you can say without legal trouble and what you cannot say without legal trouble: it all depends on where you put the cursor and how the limits are enforced. But to point out the existence of limits in order to demonstrate the absence of something is flawed.)

BTW, one comment: Holocaust denial is illegal in France. But to be clear, holocaust denial means refuting the facts established by the international Nuremberg tribunal. So it's not like a completely open category. Now, whether it's efficient is another matter…

"If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

-- US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

This is a semantic misunderstanding. When describing freedom of speech in the context of Yale, I meant it in a moral sense rather than a legal sense. Dean Mary Miller also used the term freedom of speech in her open letter to Yale, so I decided to use the same term. You're right though; saying 'academic freedom' would have been more clear.

I agree with this revision. It's important to frame your fight in terms of intellectual freedom within the academy, which is perhaps a conceptual framework your faculty can comprehend. Yale does not have any de facto obligation with regard to your free speech, legally or contractually speaking. Unfortunately, our society generally permits speech to be legal cause for termination/dismissal in private institutions (e.g. employment at a company), except in cases of discrimination and failures to adhere to equal opportunity laws.

The best advice I can give is to ensure you have open-minded faculty members at your back. If you have professors you feel you can talk to, I would try to have a casual conversation with them as soon as you can. Their advice and backing will be invaluable, if and when a formal situation arises.

> legal cause for termination/dismissal in private institutions

In the US, under at-will employment, an employee "can be dismissed by an employer...without having to establish 'just cause' for termination..." [1]

If you'd prefer a different standard because this rule sounds harsh against employees, think for a moment from a company's standpoint: If you know the law won't make it easy for you fire someone, you'll be really picky about who you hire, how you hire them, and how many people you hire.

I think at-will employment helps everyone by making the job market more liquid and reducing the size of the class of "unemployable" people.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-will_employment

I would just like to point out that it can also have a negative affect on job liquidity. For instance why would I move, at expense to myself, for a job if there is a reasonable chance of being fired for something unrelated to my work and with little recourse. It also means I'm less likely to disagree with the boss because something going bad for the company is not as bad as me getting fired from my point of view.

Fair enough to say 'that these show bigger issues with the company and you'd be better off elsewhere' but it doesn't stop companies like these existing and minimising the cost to them isn't something I particularly support.

Sounds good. And sorry for the snarky tone in my original comment. I try to avoid such things, but, alas, the HN edit period is over, and I am now chained to that comment forever.

P.S. I think the reply to your comment by lvs has some good thoughts.

Why do you grant "academic freedom" some sort of special status, while decrying freedom of speech? Yes, Americans tend to confuse the legal principle with the ethical one, but both are equally valid.

Freedom of speech is certainly a valid thing. But as a legal principle, it refers to restrictions on government, and Yale is a private institution. If Mr. Haufler wants his effort to succeed, then I think he is better off using the proper terminology.

In Europe we have database rights (see eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_Directive) that can be used to prevent others from using your data - under quite narrowly defined conditions AFAIR.

Copyright doesn't protect from reuse of data, it's there to protect a particular artistic expression, a particular form if you like. I don't think the USA have anything akin to the European database rights?

the EU database directive only protects databases that are the result of a "substantial investment". That means that in practice only databases that are not a side effect of the core activities of the creator are protected. A course database would not qualify for protection under the database directive since the core activity is teaching, and not publishing courses online.

>in practice only databases that are not a side effect of the core activities of the creator are protected //

Presumably that assertion is based on caselaw as I see nothing in the Directive itself that says that. A substantial investment - but note that can be qualitative and/or quantative - is in Art7(1)¹ however.

If your assertion is true then databases could be simply compiled by an offshoot company in order to meet the requirements.

¹ -- http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:...

Edit: http://www.out-law.com/page-5698 gives a run-down including some caselaw (as does http://www.out-law.com/page-392 with more caselaw detail). It doesn't tally with what you're saying exactly but suggests that the investment needs to be in the compilation of the data, not the production. It might well be argued that this [theoretical] case would be akin to the "Judgments on the Fixtures Marketing lawsuits" and so like the football league match listings not warrant protection. However it seems it's rather difficult to be generic in judgement. Any part of law that says "substantial" appears to be well-placed to let lawyers earn their keep.

I think the only place where you'll find actual case law in Europe is the UK. The other countries don't let judges make law (except in some cases, at their supreme court equivalent).

I tend to agree with the argument that "freedom of speech", as generally construed, is a thing that binds governments, and not private parties.

Sometimes, however, that's a spurious distinction. This is one of those times.

possible context: from ggchappell's webpage regarding free speech while at a university:


i'm a bit busy atm so i haven't had a chance to review the short post but it could provide some insight into his opinion.

Yeeks, I've been found. ;-)

For the record, I found that memo to be very significant and also quite reassuring. However, it exhibits the same kind of terminological muddled-ness that I was talking about in my earlier comment.

Or maybe it does. Yale is a private organization. The University of Alaska (whose president wrote the memo you linked to) is an avatar of sorts of the government of the state of Alaska. In what sense is such an institution restrained by constitutional limitations on government? This seems to be a surprisingly poorly settled question in U.S. law.

This is an unfortunate outcome, since Yale’s copyright assertion muddles the argument that Yale’s actions violate Peter and Harry’s freedom of speech.

Agreed. Very muddled thinking, indeed.

Ignorance, egotism, entitlement, etc. "Hey reddit, watch me fight the (wo)man!!" Maybe you could have inquired about or offered to help Yale's tool/product? Nah, I'll just jack it and cry foul because my little mash-up thing gets turned off.

It sure sounds like there is nearly a contractual obligation by Yale to provide data a certain way. Whatever agreement made this possible could get undermined. Then NO data will be made available and poor Yale students can go back to just lists of courses.

Just a little tip for posting on HN: try not to use any emotion in your arguments unless you are looking for downvotes.

Thanks, but I'm not motivated either way by popularity. What all these kids at Yale are doing is misguided and a waste of their youth and skills. They could have stepped up to try to make a name for themselves by understanding more than just the technical bits. They could have spent just a little time to understand their non-technical landscape prior to showing off technically and crying to reddit Kony 2012-style.

They could have created a business around it. They could have attained departmental, IT, and/or administrative backing... along with all the improvements to access, support, and coverage that can bring.

What looks better? We got shut down right out of the gate for having no idea how to go about securing our venture or... We brought our technical acumen to the right eyes and ears and sold ourselves to the king-makers in our little world.

This is a dress-rehearsal for investors. What these kids proved was they want to be more Pirate Bay than Facebook. More pejorative hacker than Hacker News hacker.

Bah. I had a similar idea at my university to provide instant-feedback course guides for all degree plans, class descriptions and online resources, etc.

The university went from "awful system implemented 20 years ago by Sungard" to "awful system implemented 1 year ago by Sungard". Don't pretend this YBB+ app, created by students, had any chance of being accepted by the university. Furthermore, it is a joke to claim futility and waste of talent for these men who built this website, created out of a real-world (first-world) problem and proven to serve user demands.

This is entirely wrong. Why would they wait to climb the through the bullshit bureaucracy when they can build something that helps all the students now? What they proved is that Yale's administration is woefully out of touch.

Recent discussions seem to indicate that 14-21 y/o are reducing their participation in social media, becoming more discerning over how they use brain bandwidth, and generally simplifying their lives overall.

I know this is a bit OT, and I apologize, but his website (and others from his age group) reflects this thinking. Straight, simple, and to the point. On to the next thing.

It rejects a great many things about how we experience the web today and seems to confirm a trend that his group wants clutter-free access to correct information using tools and technology they are familiar with.

They don't want to be told by Yale that this is how "your" course catalog works, or by WP that this is how "your" blog works, or by FB that this is how "your" profile works, etc.

They are saying, "we'll show you how we want it to work."

You'd think the administration at Yale would recognize a "sit-in" when they saw one.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong. The extension:

> (3) not scraping or collecting Yale’s data

Yet in the code[0], there's a function called getRatingsForCourse() that makes an ajax call to url: "https://ybb.yale.edu/courses/" + id. How is this not scraping? Am I missing something here?

[0]: https://github.com/seanhaufler/banned-bluebook/blob/master/e...

That function just retrieves the rating for one course, based on the course ID that the user has retrieved by searching for some courses. It is certainly requesting data from Yale's server, but I wouldn't call it scraping. To qualify as scraping (at least as I've done it), you'd have to iterate over all possible IDs and store the records in a database.

For example, consider this basketball scraper: https://github.com/andrewgiessel/basketballcrawler This builds a list of all the current NBA players and then pulls stats on all of them, saving them in a giant JSON file, IIRC. That's scraping.

What Sean Haufler is doing is not massively iterated, and it's linked in time and quantity to human-generated queries. Seems different to me.

Scraping = extracting data from a third-party website. Even if you had a site on a specific course, fetching data for a single resource, it's still scraping.

Since it's extracting additional data from the second-party website, I would classify it as enhanced browsing, not as scraping. Enhancing the browsing experience is the purpose of browser extensions.

Scraping = extracting data from a third-party website.

That definition would seem to include some journalistic quotes.

It would, it that were an automated process. Can we satisfy your quibble by using the word "automated" before "extraction"?

Scraping involves storing somethjng on a server. I am not sure a user agent can be cited for copyright infringement. Perhaps caching in violation of a server's policy can be considered that, I am not sure. Is there any precdent for caching to be considered scraping and storing by the developer of the client software?

If not, I have an interesting idea for an offline travel app :)

I don't know the full etymology, but I first heard the term "screen scraping" about 15 years ago in the context of writing a web application that interfaced with a mainframe application. The mainframe database was not directly accessible to the webapp platform, so instead a session was opened to the mainframe over telnet, and the web application itself issued commands over that telnet session, parsed the terminal output, and dynamically generated a web UI that displayed the data or form fields or what have you.

Scraping these days may more often be a means of extracting data to an offsite cache/database, but ad-hoc on-demand scraping is consistent with the definition.

Regardless, this doesn't really matter. I don't see how any restrictions on "scraping" can possibly be enforced. Screen reader programs that allow visually impaired individuals to browse the web are "scraping". Mobile browsers that reformat pages on the fly to optimize their display on a small screen are "scraping".

Ad-hoc user-initiated scraping of this sort is really no different than just browsing the web directly. So whether one wants to argue that "scraping" is or isn't happening here, it hardly matters to whether this is ethical, and should not matter to whether it is legal (although on that topic, I'm guessing different judges would see it differently).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_aspects_of_hyperlinki..., specifically http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_10,_Inc._v._Amazon.com,....

Precedent suggests it's OK to make thumbnails (highly transformative, and not competition), and that it's also OK to hotlink.

From wikipedia:

> conduct was excused because the value to the public of the otherwise unavailable, useful function outweighed the impact on Perfect 10 of Google's possibly superseding use.

> Moreover, in Perfect 10, the court laid down a far-reaching precedent in favor of linking and framing, which the court gave a complete pass under copyright. It concluded that "in-line linking and framing may cause some computer users to believe they are viewing a single Google webpage, [but] the Copyright Act . . . does not protect a copyright holder against acts that cause consumer confusion."

There might be some cases where ajax calls cross the line into infringement.

Caching is easier. Once again, Google smacked down a plaintiff:


> Courts usually do not require a copyright holder to affirmatively take steps to prevent infringement. In this case, however, the court found that the plaintiff had granted Google an implied, nonexclusive license to display the work because of Field’s failure in using meta tags to prevent his site from being cached by Google. This could reasonably be interpreted as a grant of a license for that use and so the courts held that a license for Google to cache the site was implied because Field failed to take the necessary steps when setting up his website.

If the server allows caching (see meta tags), it seems OK to cache it. But it depends (Google had to rely on meta, because they were caching everything ... if you specifically cache a website, you might want to see if hey have a TOS).

I'd just be a little careful in how you transform the data. Also, there's API rules.

Really, you'd need to see a lawyer.

> Scraping involves storing somethjng on a server.

Duh, of course it doesn't. Scraping is taking data in one format from there and presenting it in a different format here.

That seems wide. I thought it was human readable to machine indexable, not human readable to human readable.

> Scraping involves storing somethjng on a server.

Not really sure I agree with your definition. Website scraping, in general, is taking specifically taking data from a webpage.

I guess he doesn't call it scraping as the function retrieves a json document instead of retrieving some html and extracting data from it.

Pretty smart move on this guy's part, as it's a win-win situation for him. If they kick him out, the positive attention he gets for fighting the man will just enable him to start working 4 or 5 months early.

He seems smart enough to get a good job regardless. The small win of publicity probably isn't worth the loss of a diploma, especially for a senior with (presumably) only one semester left. Given the time and money he's invested in his degree, I'm not sure he'd agree that it's a "win-win."

What is the meaningful difference between a Yale degree and 7 semesters of a Yale education? If your answer is "some employers wouldn't consider you as an applicant without the proper degree" do you want to work for that sort of employer?

The meaningful difference is that you have 7 semesters of sunk cost, and can't write that you graduated on your resume. In other words, you are a drop-out. A BS is a filter that you'll find for lots of jobs (or graduate school); and although there are places that will hire you, it makes things harder than they would have been otherwise.

If you want to get a bachelors degree from another school (1) it is likely to be somewhat harder to get into another school if you've been expelled from another, (2) other schools will have a residency requirement such that you'll need a couple of years to complete a degree even though you were only months away at the original institution.

Sunk costs are sunk. Unless the marginal utility of that piece of paper is worth compromising your ideals and dropping another $20k in tuition, the sensible thing to do would be to drop out.

Given that he's already got the brand, the majority of the education, and the network of going to Yale, I'm not sure it is.

If you don't graduate you don't have the brand. He might be able to establish an independent brand with his plugin, but that is certainly more risky.

I generally don't think the Ivy league tuition compared to the differential of quality state schools is worth it when you are starting out, but in this particular instance the differential between a Yale degree and any other degree would probably be less than having to go elsewhere and end up equivalently as a sophomore/junior.

>"If you don't graduate you don't have the brand. He might be able to establish an independent brand with his plugin, but that is certainly more risky."

>"A BS is a filter that you'll find for lots of jobs (or graduate school); and although there are places that will hire you, it makes things harder than they would have been otherwise."

I would disagree with both statements.

Part of the value (really, most of the value) of attending these schools is the network that you build while there. And yes, he can always write on his resume that he attended Yale from "Sept 2009-January 2013" (if he were to drop out). I attended a top university and dropped out my last semester to pursue tech related endeavors. I have reaped enormous benefits from this decision.

Once you are accepted to a top university, 90% of the "brand"-ing is complete. If you are resourceful (as this young man clearly is), the rest will take care of itself.

With regards to your second comment, the idea of a "BS as a filter" is losing credibility at an exponential rate. It might seem counter intuitive, but a top tech employer would take a second look at a Yale dropout who wrote a popular plug-in. A majority of applicants at these firms already come from the best schools in the country. On it's own, even an ivy-league degree isn't as great of a filter as you might think. (Note: This applies to jobs with the highest concentration of ivy-league applicants)

> If your answer is "some employers wouldn't consider you as an applicant without the proper degree" do you want to work for that sort of employer?

Unfortunately yes. A lot of the top technology companies are still saddled with the notion that academics matter.

I know this is sacrilege to say on Hacker News, but for some people, getting a degree is a goal unto itself, and not just a means to a job.

Make it a userscript instead of a Chrome extension and then Google can't block it from their store because it will be distributed openly.



Make it a Javascript (just put into Favorites an icon that links to javascript:(function(){...})() which creates and inserts a script block into the currently open site (Yale site in this case) which loads the big .js from a server. Users browse the regular Yale page, click on their icon in the Favorites bar and the page extends so it can look and perform however you want it to look and perform - unblockable!

GreaseMonkey and Scriptish userscripts are run in the Chrome plugin TamperMonkey https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tampermonkey/dhdgf...

Or better yet, do a desktop app.

Your first url looks broken.

Really clever response to clearly decouple the copyright issue from the freedom of speech issue. I'm curious to see how the university will react to this.

The data will stop being presented in a form that's easily parsed. Instead, it'll be in PDFs rather than within text+HTML that this guy's extension can move around.

(And the counter to this is a server somewhere that the extension can send the PDF to, that runs pdftotext on linux... so he should prepare for that ...or just prepare to be expelled).

With the rise of javascript in the browser to a first world programming language it's hard to imagine anything they could do that would put the information out of reach.

There's an early xkcd with an answer for that: http://xkcd.com/129/

> The data will stop being presented in a form that's easily parsed. Instead, it'll be in PDFs rather than within text+HTML that this guy's extension can move around.

Five years from now this kind of information will be encrypted using EME modules, in fact this whole Yale saga would've been a non-issue from the start had EME been well established.

Evaluations hurt the professors' feelings and pride, so they are not published. Politics is probably the only area in which evaluations (a.k.a. votes, surveys, news articles/comments) are published.

I am sure students feelings are hurt when they pay tuition for a really poorly run/designed subject.

I'm astonished you're the only person in this comment thread to have made this very significant point.

Yale’s copyright assertion muddles the argument that Yale’s actions violate Peter and Harry’s freedom of speech

This misguided appeal to freedom of speech does not strengthen his argument.

Why do you think its misguided?

Because freedom of speech concerns the relationship of the government and its citizens. In this situation, more appropriate terminology could be academic freedom or censorship.

It would be great if they added the price of course material in there. Maybe with real time pricing from Amazon or something like that.

"If Yale censors this piece of software or punishes the software developer, it would clearly characterize Yale as an institution where having authority over students trumps freedom of speech."

I'm inclined to say that events in the last decade or so have made it more clear that pretty much all educational institutions everywhere have always been about making sure their authority over students trumps freedom of speech. Or rather, freedom of speech is only allowed on things that the administration approves of.

I partially agree with the university's reasoning on this; displaying course ratings like it's a food menu is disencouraging thought, not something you expect from an academic environment, and it can't have a good outcome regarding course selection. They just should have found a better way to combat that instead of brute force.

This is key to say: this is more than a freedom of speech (or freedom of entrepreneurship) issue. It's a question of whether college classes should become commodities distinguished only by convenience of access (e.g. scheduling) and a rating from prior consumers of the class/professor. It probably doesn't help that the period during which students check out classes is called "shopping"...

There's something deeply conservative (in a grumpy old-school sense of the word) about trying to preserve a non-metrics based view of an education... Facebook's early days is, of course, also a subtext to this. FB was, of course, built by a comp-sci undergrad at an elite college who became fabulously wealthy by hacking friendships into data structures. Are we rooting for similar hacks going straight into the pedagogy?

I agree that interface decisions are political. If you allow students to sort by workload, you're sending the wrong message about academics.

Or at least what a minority (I, included) believes academics to be about. The cynic in me is OK with YBB+ and its food menu ethos: most of the academic system has been turned into an exchange already, so might as well be publicly honest about it. That way, real scholarly students can avoid places like Yale at the undergraduate level, and go to places that actually still know what real education means.

I wonder whether organizations today are really so dumb that they need some education before making public knee-jerk reactions. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the case, (and most of the readers don't understand or care) Yale would avoided all the bad publicity if they had just let the whole thing slide.

I admire the courage and stance of Sean Haufler on this.

But out of curiosity, looking at his profile, why would someone who had an internship at Google and worked at FourSquare would need a CS(!!) and Economics(???) degree from Yale?

I might understand the Economics part, what about the CS part???

Maybe because he likes academia and values knowledge?

I don't know, personally I could go out there and get a job if I really really wanted to, but at the same time I love research and love studying challenging stuff. Some people go to University by choice, not because they have to obtain a piece of paper.

Maybe he just wants it. Or maybe he finds Yale to be a good environment for learning. It might not be about need.

Yale is actually pretty good as an environment for learning.

I was most surprised by the professor who defended the school's ban on the new website. I always pegged Yale as a pretty Liberal college, so I was surprised at the professor's decision to support the school.

I would play up the extension as an accessibility enhancement, and cite the ADA and accessibility guidelines. This makes the point about the users' 'right to transform data' more clearly -- access and transformation is about usability, and usability is a legal right.

The administration will greatly fear an ADA action, or arguments that come even close to them, while drawing parallels. Students crying 'Freedom!' is old hat, and will get a less effective response.

If you matriculate 1 semester at Harvard/Yale whatever - you've got the trademark - so why keep paying to waste your time?

How did this make it onto Hacker News? Squabbles like this happen at every university (or at least the ones I have been to). Universities are often quite conservative places with a tendency to restrict student activity beyond what is sensible and students often fight back.

This is a run of the mill occurrence.

I can think of at least two reasons for it to be on HN:

(1) Replicating as a browser extension the functionality to which Yale objects qualifies as a damn good hack.

(2) The original issue is about internet freedom, a matter of concern to the HN community.

> Yale also told Harry and Peter that the CourseTable website infringed upon the school’s copyrighted course data. It appears to be true; CourseTable hosted Yale’s course descriptions and student evaluations, or, if not the exact evaluations, they at least hosted derivations of them.

It doesn't appear to be true at all! I'd argue very strongly that these are not creative works, and have zero commercial value, I don't believe they are eligale for copyright protection in the first place. This kind of muddled thinking that anything anyone writes down is magically covered by copyright needs to be resisted.

Zero commercial value is a highly dubious claim. If the website happened to be refined to be so popular that students wouldn't want to go without it and they would be able to charge for the service, then commercial value would naturally be present.

By zero commercial value I mean that the current market price for this information is $0 because it is being given away for free. So it meets one of the key criteria of fair use.

However, I probably shouldn't mention fair use at all, because I don't believe that these course descriptions are eligible for copyright protection, therefore any reuse does not need to be justified as fair use.

Yale acknowledges you're effort: "Just this weekend, we learned of a tool that replicates YBB+'s efforts without violating Yale’s appropriate use policy, and that leapfrogs over the hardest questions before us. What we now see is that we need to review our policies and practices." --Dean Mary Miller's response (Jan. 20) http://yalecollege.yale.edu/content/open-letter-yale-communi...?

As long as Google doesn't ban the extension from the Chrome Store and doesn't completely block installing 3rd party extensions to Chrome in schools or something.

I actually don't find that unlikely these days. They've already started to make it hard to install it from other sources. I could see them "sweetening the deal" for ChromeOS/Chrome in schools to not be able to install external extensions at all.

> They've already started to make it hard to install it from other sources.

They had to because idiots were installing malware left and right by clicking and installing random malware extensions without realizing what they're doing.

This is really awesome, we've been building similar solutions to our course websites at McGill. However, the administration does not seem to care yet (that might be due to the low adoption) about the different unofficial APIs and sites. The idea of adding course ratings / workload descriptions is really good we might have to implement a similar system on our end.

"If Yale grants students access to data, the university does not have the right to specify exactly how students must view the data."

I disagree strongly with this statement. If the data is owned by Yale, they do in fact have the right to specify exactly how students must view the data.

Although it's frustrating to see copyright holders doing illogical or inefficient things with their copyrighted data, it is their right to determine the method and mechanism by which their data is consumed. Just because it is _possible_ to transform their data into a mashup, doesn't mean it's legal, ethical, or permissible. It doesn't matter if this transformation happens entirely within a viewer's computer, or if it happens on another server - if the copyright holder doesn't want their data to be transformed that way, it is their right.

No it isn't. There is no such right.

Copyright holders want such a right, but they don't have it.

The entire concept of copyright in the first place is artificial - there is no moral copyright. So the only rights you have are the ones copyright gives you, and no more.

Not to mention there is no database right in the US, so they don't even have a copyright on the course database in the first place! (They do on the description of the courses, but not on the list of them.)

Actually, separate moral rights on copyrighted works do exist.


They likely do not apply to a University's course catalog and, but FYI moral rights are real.

Also, under US copyright law, all 'works' & 'creations' are automatically protected, and the creator owns the copyright. This very likely can and does apply to databases the same way it applies to art or music. It would be a really bad idea to assume you have the right to copy someone's database just because copyright law doesn't mention databases specifically! ;)

Those moral rights are the opposite of what I mean. They are restrictions on the copyright owner. The moral rights I meant are if copyright exists from a moral point of view rater than a legal one - and it doesn't.

> It would be a really bad idea to assume you have the right to copy someone's database just because copyright law doesn't mention databases specifically! ;)

It does mention it specifically. It specifically mentions that it doesn't exist. There is no database copyright in the US. (There is in other countries.)

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_copyright

> They are restrictions on the copyright owner.

What do you mean? Moral rights do not restrict the Moral Rights holder in any way, and they do restrict the ways that any other person is allowed to present, re-present, or modify the work.

Moral rights can only restrict copyright holders when the copyrights have been transferred from the creator of the work to another party, and in that case, Moral Rights restrict all people who didn't author/create the work equally, it has nothing to do with who holds the copyrights.

> It [US copyright law] specifically mentions that it [database copyrights] doesn't exist.

You have a good point! I was at least partially, if not completely incorrect. :)

But, it would still be a bad idea to assume you have the right to copy someone's database. It might not be a violation of copyright law, but there's a good chance it is a violation of some law. The sui generis database rights link happens to give a separate reason for why it would be a bad idea to copy someone's database. :)

I also just had to check... ;) The text of US copyright law does mention databases twice. http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf It specifically mentions, in definitions, that databases are not works of visual art, and that databases are not considered a "digital audio recording medium". It does not seem to specifically exclude databases categorically, but considering the language in the 'sui generis' article you linked, "Uncreative collections of facts are outside of Congressional authority". The keyword is 'creative', and if a database were shown to be the primary form of a "creative" work, copyright law may apply.

"This very likely can and does apply to databases the same way it applies to art or music."

No, that's not correct:

"Uncreative collections of facts are outside of Congressional authority under the Copyright Clause (Article I, § 8, cl. 8) of the United States Constitution, therefore no database right exists in the United States. Originality is the sine qua non of copyright in the United States (see Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service). This has not stopped database owners lobbying for the introduction of such a right, but so far bills to introduce it in the U.S. have been prevented by the successful lobbying of research libraries, consumer groups and firms who benefit from the free use of factual information."[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_right#United_States

I disagree.

According to this line of logic, if I use Yale's data to find a good class, and I verbally mention said class to you, my roomate, I would be giving you a piece data in a way Yale does not sanction. Making a website that better shows the data is essentially just a large scale recommendation online.

Of course, it could be argued that I shouldn't be allowed to recommend classes to other people, but I think most people wouldn't want to go down that path. Oh you have something negative to say about our product? You aren't authorized to use information about our product, such as it's name and function.

>The story does not end here, however, since there’s a way to distinguish the freedom of speech issue from the copyright claims.

Except Yale is a private school. The 1st amendment only protects people's speech from government sanction.

He's addressing the copyright issue, the problem is with out the copyright issue Yale has to make a claim based on censoring speech.

Once Yale starts censoring speech you gain friends with tenure and/or alumni.

He isn't trying this in the court of law, but the court of public opinion.

Copyright on course description. Nice, that's nice. How do supposedly smart people not get the very simple idea that open is good in academics (and in general but let's not get carried away).

School owns the data. But students are the data consumers, and hence have a right to control how it's presented and consumed. And students are also customers. What is the school afraid of.

He should have had his pal over at Harvard upload it. Why give the administration power over you? Relying on the goodness of executives is big gamble, imho.

Well done. A brilliant and ballsy display of civil disobedience. Godspeed.

The Dean’s response is such a typical academia response. It showcases the hypocrisy of these institutions and the fiefdom of a bureaucrat.

Too many academic institutions claim they are all about learning and growing and leadership, until you do something they disapprove of in the slightest way, usually because it rocks their boat in the slightest way. We’ve seen how Stalin-esque they act when they don’t get their way, time and time again with varying degrees of force. From the UC Davis pepper spray incident to the MIT Aaron Swartz incident. This might not be on the same level (yet), but it’s the principle. A series of reasonable actions being met with disproportionate bullshit responses.

Teach them a lesson about learning, growing, and leadership. Don’t surrender and don’t give in. Do absolutely everything within the bounds of the law to fuck up their desired outcome on the principle of their actions. That’s what they are trying to do to you and the YBB+ devs. So take away all of their power and continue. Circumvent all of their censorship. You or some scholarship are paying far too much to this institution to have it behave like this.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised someone at Yale noticed and decided to make this an incident. Most universities are usually too distracted by the disproportionate effort they invest in their football or basketball teams over academic programs, or are too busy ensuring book publisher monopolies and price gouging, but those are problems for another day.

If I understood the Dean's position correctly, it was that they didn't want students making course choices based on a single one-dimensional metric, but would rather the students saw the bigger picture before deciding. I can understand this viewpoint; some very good courses have a bi-modal distribution of ratings - students either love or hate them. The trick is to figure out which you'll likely be. You can't see this from the mean.

Where I teach (not at Yale), we've been having difficulty getting the administration to publish teaching metrics at all. This sort of public argument doesn't help matters. I wouldn't be surprised if Yale simply stops publishing the metrics at all if they perceive they're being widely abused.

Students ought to grow wary of unwise comments and ratings they find on the "People's Web". Good students will go to the right classes independently of the few bad comments. In fact, they probably make the difference much better than their dean, because they're used to consumer forums.

Rather than cutting the source, if the Dean doesn't trust student's maturity, the Dean should educate them about how to read several sources of information coming from the Internet.

Nice one shaufler... Good job

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