June 6, 2007

New Roles for Universities: Filesharing Police [8:24 am]

Definitely an important one to expend university resources upon: Sharing Ideas About Sharing Files

To use one of several metaphors to come out of Tuesday’s Congressional hearing on efforts to combat illegal downloading, colleges are finding themselves in the middle of a high-tech “arms race” between the recording and movie industries on one side and computer users, using increasingly clever methods to download copyrighted works for free, on the other.

But panelists from universities and business implied that ratcheting up their policing mechanisms in response to every new innovation by peer-to-peer networks was ultimately unsustainable. In other words, no détente in sight.

Colleges and universities have been an important front in the Recording Industry Association of America’s battle against illegal file sharing, manifested most recently in the new strategy of sending “pre-litigation” letters — 400 a month — that give students a choice between settling at a discounted rate (reportedly saving up to several thousand dollars apiece) or going to court. College administrators have found themselves in the crossfire since they, not the students, are the recipients of the letters — casting them not only in the role of de facto network cops, but messengers as well.

The House hearing: The Role of Technology in Reducing Illegal Filesharing: The University Perspective. The testimony is largely what you might expect, except for the terribly embarrassing reiteration that intellectual property is at the heart of the univerisity’s mission — that plus a lot of mouthing about how “technology is not the solution” while shilling for Audible Magic. Bart Gordon’s opening statement is just confused enough to be a reasonable summary.

Today we are going to be addressing the issue of illegal filesharing on university computer networks. This practice, which is also known as digital piracy, is costing the entertainment industry billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Many of the people affected by it are my constituents, who live near and work in Nashville, the recording capital of America. They are the ones who first brought this issue to my attention.

I would also note that illegal filesharing isn’t just about royalty fees. It clogs campus networks and interferes with the educational and research mission of universities.

It wastes resources that could have gone to laboratories, classrooms, and equipment. And it is teaching a generation of college students that it’s all right to steal music, movies, and other content, because it’s easy to download them on the internet. That’s wrong, and it must be stopped.

Our Committee is not the first to address this issue. Under the leadership of my friend Lamar Smith, the Judiciary Committee held a series of hearings on this topic in the last Congress. The Education Committee has also held a hearing on this issue. However, those hearings focused on the illegality and regulatory structure, as was appropriate given the jurisdiction of those Committees. The focus of today’s hearing is on technology to help prevent illegal filesharing.

And there’s Fred’s op-ed in the WaPa — Copyright Silliness on Campus - pdf

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