Is Threatening Universities An Appropriate Use of Congressmens' Time? - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
6/9/2007
10:38 AM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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Is Threatening Universities An Appropriate Use of Congressmens' Time?

This country is bogged down in an unwinnable war, health care is a problem that desperately needs the best solutions we can devise, and the yahoos are taking to the streets over immigration policy. So what are our representatives in Congress doing about these problems? Don't ask. They're too busy trying figure out a way to punish universities for allowing some students to use t

This country is bogged down in an unwinnable war, health care is a problem that desperately needs the best solutions we can devise, and the yahoos are taking to the streets over immigration policy. So what are our representatives in Congress doing about these problems? Don't ask. They're too busy trying figure out a way to punish universities for allowing some students to use their campus networks for file-swapping, apparently at the behest of Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other major influence-peddlers in the entertainment industry.This week the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing. Members of that committee and the House Judiciary Committee took the opportunity to repay their corporate masters by railing against this menace to society -- congressmen including Bart Gordon (D-Tennessee), Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), and Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), inveighed against file-sharing, claiming the committee has jurisdiction over the solution since technology will be the first line of defense in actually preventing the problem.

What the RIAA is evidently trying to do is turn up the heat on college students by threatening universities with the loss of federal funds if they don't join the music industry's witch hunt. The problem is the infamous Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It contains a safe-harbor provision that relieves colleges and universities of possible liability for copyright infringement on campus networks, as long as campuses cooperate with efforts to prevent it.

But the RIAA has apparently decided that it, not the universities, should decide how much cooperation is enough, and it wants to dictate anti-file-swapping technology to the schools by way of legislation created by its bought-and-paid-for legislators. (You can see a list of congressmen on the RIAA pad here.)

As usual, the great legal blog TechDirt points out that the RIAA is wearing no clothes. And the smartest comments at the committee's hearing came, not from the congressmen (although at least none of them said the Internet is a bunch of tubes) but from Greg Jackson, Chief Information Officer of the University of Chicago, who said of prohibitions on file-sharing, "So long as the right thing remains more daunting, awkward and unsatisfying than the wrong thing, too many people will do the wrong thing."

The music industry has spent a great deal of money trying to hold back the tide of technological change when what it needs to do is find ways to cooperate with it. It's too bad the U.S. Congress's credibility has become a casualty of this misguided Luddite effort.

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