WASHINGTON, D.C. ‘ A battle over intellectual property is brewing at American University after a student was charged with violating several disciplinary codes for videotaping an on-campus speech by Tipper Gore, wife of former presidential candidate Al Gore.
Ben Wetmore, then a junior at American, was charged with seven disciplinary code violations after he videotaped Gore’s speech in April, then refused to hand the tape over to university officials.
Wetmore has held the administration’s attention this year, after creating a Web site (www.benladner.com) that tracks what he sees as overspending on items such as the President Ben Ladner’s home and car and events like the speech given by Gore.
After hearing rumors that the speech could cost tens of thousands of dollars, Wetmore decided to videotape it to put on his Web site for others to view. When security noticed he was taping, an officer asked him to stop. When he refused, two more officers came over, and Wetmore eventually agreed to step outside where he was handcuffed and taken to a police station.
The university found Wetmore guilty on five of seven charges, including theft of intellectual property, and refused to return his tape. Wetmore has said the theft charge should not apply because he was taping for noncommercial journalistic reasons and that Gore was a public figure giving a public speech.
Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the university has misinterpreted copyright law. Even if Wetmore tried to sell the tape, only Gore would have legal grounds to sue him for a copyright violation, which would also be a stretch, he said.
Wetmore, who must spend a year on probation and perform community service, is considering legal action.