You may have heard about the amendment proposed to a Higher Education act by Harry Reid that would make colleges responsible for enforcing RIAA and MPAA policy. The text of the amendment is absolutely every bit as scary as the Inside Higher Ed article makes it sound. And, as one commenter (highlighted by Slashdot, even) notes, we shouldn't expect much sanity from the Democrats on this, because the government of the USA today is driven by the largest campaign donors, and of course the companies behind the music and movie industries are huge campaign donors to both parties. Indeed, the "liberal bias" of Hollywood, if anything, may make the Democrats more receptive to this kind of crap. (Around scienceblogs, it's pretty trendy to bash the Republicans for all things that are wrong, and I participate in this as much as anybody else these days. There's certainly no doubt that the current administration, aided and abetted by a Republican Congress, made the biggest and uglies mess this country has made in more than 30 years. But the real problem isn't one or the other party, but, as Lawrence Lessig notes in his new personal mission statement, the influence of big money on politics, and the resultant routine corruption.)
In any event, the amendment hasn't passed yet, and may well have a different form when it's done. The best thing we can do right now is call our senators and congressmen and tell them that we are opposed to Congress mandating that colleges and universities become the enforcement arm of the RIAA and MPAA. The EFF Action Alert has more information on this.
However, there's one fun bit included in the current text that I got via clicking on a link in the Inside Higher Ed article:
the 25 institutions of higher education participating in programs under this title, which have received during the previous calendar year the highest number of written notices from copyright owners, or persons authorized to act on behalf of copyright owners, alleging infringement of copyright by users of the institution's information technology systems, where such notices identify with specificity the works alleged to be infringed, or a representative list of works alleged to be infringed, the date and time of the alleged infringing conduct together with information sufficient to identify the infringing user, and information sufficient to contact the copyright owner or its authoized representative;...
Here's the neat thing about this. This blog post is copyrighted. So are all the other posts on this blog. So are all the other posts on every blog you read in scienceblogs.com, and elsewhere. So is just about every other single page you will find on the Web. Down in the lower-left corner of this page you'll see a "Creative Commons" icon, telling you that I'm perfectly happy to have you read this and send it on to your friends, as long as you reuse it only for non-commercial purposes and keep the attribution.
However. Consider the Kansas University policy against students downloading any copyrighted information on their network. As such, it's not too much of a stretch to say that students are "infringing" if I have evidence that they've downloaded this blog entry, is it?
All it would take is the web logs from sites like this. Pull out the hits that are from the IP range assigned to (say) Kansas University. All of the people here who wanted to participate could then post a blanket authorization for all of their readers to act on their behalf to send written notification to KU that copyrighted information is being downloaded to their network. Post the relevant IP addresses and date/times, as well as an URL or two for "representative works" (*), and absolutely flood KU (or some other University that we all pick) with letters. They become, by far, the top letter receiver, and, hopefully, under the law receive the most scrutiny. Publicize that the real reason we're flooding them is how stupid we think their IP policy is, not because we're worried about illegal downloading. Also publicize that we're trying to point out how dangerous and wrong-headed a system is whereby private interests get to drive government enforcement of the laws with unchecked allegations.
if this law passes with text anything like this, I say that we do it. There needs to be more publicity of the degree to which the RIAA and MPAA have become screaming bullies who are pushing Congress around with their campaign donations, spreading utter madness and fear about their own way-out-there view of intellectual property and the completely false notion that we may be facing the end of creativity as we know it. We're only facing the end of the big record companies as we know it, and I have a hard time seeing why (a) that's a bad thing, but (b) even if you think it is a bad thing, why the government should legislate that it can't happen. Are we also going to legislate that the major buggy whip manufacturers must be put back into business?
(*) By the way, you gotta love a law that doesn't even require people to say what was stolen, but just send in a list of "things like this" that were stolen. You also gotta love a law where lots of uninvestigated allegations from copyright owners and their "authorized agents" cause the government to come down like a ton of bricks on a college or University, requiring them to do what we all know will greatly hamper the lives of the students and the research business of the University. Heck, at KU, you can get kicked of the net for being the target of an allegation, which in this day and age can make getting through college very difficult. Is this not punishment? Is this not somehow in violation of the Bill of Rights? And, yet, the RIAA tries to make it sound all warm and fuzzy by talking about the "true value" of "intellectual property." What a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came.