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Back in the Petrie Dish, but for How Long?

Think back a few days. Do you perhaps remember awakening in the middle of the night, totally creeped-out, as though there were something ominous slouching through the darkness, headed for your campus, determined to make you overspend your budget and complicate your local area network? Well, there was, and when it was recognized, it was determined that it was, of all places, not on a vector from the Department of Justice, but from the office of Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Gasp!

Harry wasn’t the genesis of the monster, which died in just a few days, before it was really born; he was merely the Petrie dish where it incubated and gathered strength  before it left the antiquated and moldering world of the RIAA and entered the world of the new millennium. Thank goodness for the League of Super Associations that fought against it.

This monster has died ... for now. You can view the body here

Was it really a monster? I think so. The amendment would have required the Secretary of Education to create an annual report for Congress outlining which 25 Universities have received the most copyright infringement notices. These Universities would then have had to have come up with and report a plan of action on how stop copyright infringement on their campuses.

This is wrong in so many ways. This is the way that bothers me the most: Imagine that you live next door to some really nosy, extremely sensitive people. And in your community, noise or other complaints must be compiled, no matter who made them and without regard to their legitimacy. Then your cat does its thing in your neighbor’s yard and she starts calling the police to complain about that too. She does this weekly, maybe daily. She’s your “fussy old RIAA” neighbor. Then city council decides that the biggest offenders in town, those with the most nuisance complaints, get their names published in the local newspaper and have to do community service: Still without regard to the veracity of the complaints. Oops, you are now public enemy No. 1.

So your ailurophobic neighbor becomes the bane of your life. That concept sends a shudder up my civil liberties, for sure. But the RIAA does seem quite analogous to a fussy neighbor who wants you to do unreasonable things for them.

What was Harry thinking? One commentator noted that: “[T]he bill smells like a favor to the anti-P2P tech industry, in that it's basically lining up 25 enormous schools as new customers.” So, how do I get a peek at who has recently contributed to Harry’s campaign from the anti-P2P industry? Whoever this is would surely get their money back from us taxpayers if this became law. Since this is based on the number of complaints, schools with 40,000 students will get more complaints than schools with 2,000 students. And--d'oh!--those large universities tend to be public schools.

I like Sherwin Sly’s take on this:
This is yet another egregious attempt by the content industries to draft anyone and everyone into service as copyright enforcers. The resources of colleges’ IT departments already have their hands full providing students and faculty with the necessary high-speed connections for education and research; they were never intended nor designed to be an infringement intelligence agency. And clearly, it doesn’t matter that such attempts at filtering are often fatally flawed.
It parallels what some college and university presidents are now understanding about the US News & World Report rankings. Those rankings belong to the magazine, yet we got seduced into doing its work for it. Not so much anymore.

What’s the RIAA’s perspective? How about this one from Inside Higher Ed: “Colleges have provided an ideal environment for online theft to thrive, producing a generation of citizens lacking an appreciation for “the true value of” copyrighted works.” Right.

If you want to learn more about this threat, because it’s still incubating somewhere, I highly recommend the article, Protect Harvard from the RIAA, from the Harvard Crimson:
[W]hen copyright protection starts requiring the cooperation of uninvolved parties, at the cost of both financial and mission harm, those external costs outweigh its benefits. We need not condone infringement to conclude that 19th- and 20th-century copyright law is poorly suited to promote 21st-century knowledge. The old copyright-business models are inefficient ways to give artists incentives in the new digital environment.
Yes, the monster is dead. The Higher Education Act was reauthorized Tuesday without the File Sharing amendment.

But its evil creator, the fussy old RIAA (who hates your cat), lurks on the dark side, determined to coercively leverage the power of others to maintain its medieval source of lucre. Keep your stakes sharpened!

About the Author

About the author: Terry Calhoun is Director of Communications and Publications for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). You can contact him through CT's IT Trends forum by clicking here. View more articles by Terry Calhoun.

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