Thursday, May 10, 2007

More on Congress' Threats to Universities

As we all know, Congress has recently sent threatening letters to Colleges and Universities across the United States regarding their efforts to curb file sharing. I recently read another article on the issue.

From the article:

"Universities have a moral and legal obligation to ensure students do not use campus computers for illegal downloading," he continued. "These schools do not give away their intellectual property for free, and they should not expect musicians to do so."
Who said that the schools feel that musicians should give away their "intellectual property" for free? The issue is not what the schools thoughts on copyright is, but whether or not it is the schools' responsibility to proactively monitor their networks, at the cost of the taxpayers and students, on behalf of a multi-billion dollar industry without any financial contribution from them whatsoever. There is currently no law in the United States that I'm aware of that requires ISPs or Universities to monitor their networks to prevent infringement of copyrights by their users.

In-fact, hosting providers who not only provide the bandwidth but actually host infringing material on their servers for users to download are exempt from liability under the DMCA's safe harbor provisions, which places the onus on the copyright holders to monitor for infringement and request removal of infringing content. Why should Universities be the exception to this rule?

These Congressmen are essentially telling the Universities to go above and beyond what the law says they have to do, or else Congress will simply change the law to require them to do so. I notice that Congressman Smith (who is quoted above) doesn't actually point to any laws when he says that schools have a "legal obligation to ensure students do not use campus computers for illegal downloading".

However, what I find particularly outrageous is that Congress is specifically targeting copyright infringement on school networks on behalf of the multi-billion dollar recording industry. Where is the letters from Congress regarding child pornography, bullying and other much more dangerous (except to RIAA members) illegal activity on their networks?

One of the survey questions contained in the letter readers as follows:
"Beginning with the 2002-03 academic year and for each school year thereafter, please identify the number of student violations of your institution's acceptable use policies that involved illegal downloading, uploading, or file trafficking of copyrighted material. Please also note the number of works whose copyrights were infringed."
If the people that authored this survey actually understood the tech and how incredibly difficult it is to monitor network usage (which is why companies sell multi-million dollar solutions to do just that), they would have worded it as "known violations". Furthermore, considering many artists use P2P for promotional reasons and the fact that not all file sharing, even of music, infringes copyright (there is plenty of work available on P2P networks that is licensed under Creative Commons licenses, for instance), it is grossly unfair to expect the University to shoulder the job of determining this when the DMCA doesn't even expect this of hosting providers who may inadvertently host infringing materials themselves. Furthermore, since off-the-shelf products that enable Universities to monitor their networks range in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, why isn't Congress or the RIAA pledging financial support to enable the Universities to do what Congress wants them to do?

I'll post on this further as I hear more.


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