Congress & Colleges, a Tool for the RIAA ; Let's Hack the System!

Jul 24 2007 Published by under Intellectual Property, Politics, Rant

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, 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.

9 responses so far

  • Hugh Miller says:

    This issue does not need the "long-arm of government". This is an issue of teaching chlidren to respect the rights of others... Intellectual property needs to be included in that list of things that you need to learn to respect and not abuse. I constantly reinforce this to my classes especially when it comes to using information from the net. There are studies that show more cheating and plagarism among students and I would suggest that this is a direct result of lack of education concerning respecting intellectual property.

  • Rob Knop says:

    I don't know. To me, the term "intellectual property" is a meaningless and ill term; you can find a blog post on it earlier.
    I would say that kids who don't worry at all about violating copyright is probably part of a pattern with increased cheating and plagiarism -- but saying that this is a direct result of a lack of intellectual property education sounds way, way too much like an RIAA soundbite to me. Trying to blame all the integrity ills of society on copyright violation is almost certain a cart pulling a team of horses.
    I'm more likely to blame it on the combined effect of the "me first, look out for #1" culture that we've been developing in this country (a combined effect of reaction-to-communism capitalism on the right and the "to hell with responsibilities, do what feels right" ethic that came out of the hippy movement in the left) as well as the whole educational focus on "self-esteem" over actually doing anything well that was all over the place 10 or 15 years ago. That's a much more fundamental thing that ties into the larger pattern than just pointing at copyright violation.
    Respecting "intellectual property" is an odd thing, because "intellectual property" is a term that I don't like and that doesn't really capture what copyrights are all about. As I've argued in an earlier post, over-respect for "intellectual property" begets disrespect for freedom of expression. One should respect copyrights because one understands that copyrights serve a purpose that helps us have all the creative works that we have. One should also be respectful of the rights, needs, and concerns of other people in general.

  • Armin says:

    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.
    Do you think this bill a way for business interests to attack intellectual freedom at universities and curtail the often stated liberal "liberal bias?" If so, the following prediction results.
    If we focus on non-artistic (music, movies) intellectual copy right concerns alone, then the types of copy rights infringements allegations should be greater for works attacking business interests and lesser for works in support of neoliberal policies. We should also expect to see more allegations from "persons authorized to act on behalf of copy right owners" when such work attack neoliberal policies, then for those in support. In short, it would mean that its is not so much intellectual property rights money interests are concerned with, but rather, containing neo-liberal opposition from spreading within universities. At any rate, someone should look into the overall patterns of copy right allegations

  • In your blog post above, you wrote "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."
    So it would seem you have a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license on this blog, but when I look at the Creative Commons icon in the lower left, it says you have a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license on this blog. Since "Noncommercial" and "ShareAlike" don't mean the same thing, I'm confused.
    Please clarify.

  • DuWayne says:

    This is one of the big reasons that I am nervous about getting involved with the music industry, the other being the necessity of joining the songwriters guild. I am writing both music for sale and music that is intended for creative commons licensing, that would allow for their use in worship services, free of charge, while requiring payment for their use on for profit recordings.
    For personal financial security, I am trying to get a contract. It would be nice to get the knots out of my stomach around the time rents due. The problem is, that most contract offers don't allow one to write outside the contract, even under the circumstances that I want to. Even if they would, they would likely demand that any monies paid for the use of the CC work, go to the contract holder - while my desire, is to see those monies go to my church (this, only after I have more financial stability), whom I want to give the licensing rights to.
    I am almost ready to give up on trying to deal with the recording industry altogether and just pursue a career in writing music for advertising. It pays better and the contracts generally only restrict one to not writing for other advertising companies. Still have to join the guild though.

  • Rob Knop says:

    Oops -- sorry, it's supposed to be Attribution-ShareAlike. I misspoke above.

  • PhysioProf says:

    "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?"
    If what you mean by "infringing" is infringing your copyright as a matter of Federal copyright law, then it's a complete stretch. If you gave them permission to download--explicitly via Creative Commons, or implicitly simply by posting this entry on a publicly accessible Web site--then by definition they have not, as a matter of Federal law, infringed your copyright.
    The KU policy was written by doofuses, and violation of that policy does not come close to tracking the limits of copyright infringement as a legal matter.

  • Ktesibios says:

    I've been working in the recording studio trenches for nineteen years now, both as one of the poor buggers whose technical knowledge keeps a steady stream of "Bob"-awful drivel flowing to your radio and, occasionally, as a recording or mix engineer. Being rather intimately acquainted with the amount of human labor that is locked up in those 1s and 0s on a CD, I have no sympathy at all for people who believe that they're entitled to an electronic five-finger discount on somebody else's work, nor for any of the crap arguments they raise to rationalize their thievery.
    This, though, is just plain horseshit, though the corporate lobby gold-plates it with campaign contributions.
    To an old techhead like me, "RIAA" used to mean technical standards for things like the dimensioning of phonograph records and the equalization curve used for cutting and playback. Things that promoted the health of the industry by making it possible for listeners to buy a record, take it home and play it with a reasonable certainty that it would play back properly without their having to learn about stuff like constant-velocity, constant-amplitude and EQ time constants.
    Now all that it means is an organization devoted to rent-seeking by purchasing legislative life support for a failed business model.
    If Big Music goes the way of stagecoach manufacturing or Zeppelin service, it won't be the end of recorded music. In fact, I think that the best thing that could happen to this industry would be for the mega-label(s) to fragment into dozens of smaller companies that compete with each other to earn money by developing new artists and styles and bringing them to the listening public.

  • Rob Knop says:

    Ktesibios -- agreed. And, smaller companies might be willing to think about ways to make money for artists in the age of digital technology, rather than trying to legislate that technology will only work as well as it did in the era that allowed the Big Studios to become the dominant force they are in music.