Philip Baczewski, Director of Academic Computing and User Services
I opened my virtual copy of
the Chronicle of Higher Education
recently and it seemed to me to have a distinct yellow tinge to
it. In the Information Technology section, under the heading
at the Pirates" was an article by Brock Read entitled
First Close Look at Colleges' Digital Pirates." Describing
a study at one University regarding the transfer of copyrighted
content, it concluded that, "The first results from the research are
startling: They show that record companies and movie studios have
reason to complain about campus piracy." The basis for this
conclusion is the claim that this one institution "logged about
60,000 'original transfers' coming into or out of the campus
I can't help wonder what might have happened if livery stables had
the same approach to technological change as the entertainment
industry. Would they have sued individual drivers of automobiles who
used roads previously reserved for horses? Would they have lobbied
congress to preserve their business model of horse traffic as the
primary mode of transportation. Would they have targeted colleges
whose students were the most ardent adopters of this new technology
transportation. I suppose they would have if the had been organized
in a cartel like the RIAA. But this is simply a thought experiment
to wonder why there is such blanket acceptance of the tactics used
by the entertainment industry to attempt to exert control over their
copyrighted digital content while trying to preserve an outmoded
But back to the article.
I'm not trained as a journalist, but I
always heard that news was to be presented in a fair way that
offered different opinions on the subject. I think this article and
the research is deeply flawed. First is the claim that "The ...
results ... show that record companies and movie studios have reason
to complain about campus piracy." The sidebar accompanying states
university "used a program called CopySense to monitor illegal file
sharing on its campus network. 'Signatured' files are music and
video files with digital copyright information. 'Metadata' files
have information such as song titles that could indicate file
sharing. But most files are unknown, and
researchers assume many are pirated songs and videos."
The article reports that 68.7 percent of files are in that "unknown"
category, which in my mind makes its assumption of extensive
"piracy" totally unsupportable. Last time I looked up "unknown" it
meant "not known."
So, what expert did the Chronicle quote to possibly refute the
equating of unknown with illegal? That would be no one.
So, who funded the research? The research project "has benefited from
considerable entertainment-industry financing, including an influx of
several hundred thousand dollars that came shortly after the meeting"
[of universities and entertainment industry representatives.]
What expert did the Chronicle ask to comment on the implications of
such funding? That would be no one.
The subject of the article was one university, but the article seemed
content to make a sweeping generalization about all universities based
on this one case. Many universities (including the University of North
Texas) already have aggressive programs for student education, use
technologies like the CopySense device, and employ bandwidth limiting
technologies to discourage unauthorized trading of copyrighted
Who from other universities did the Chronicle interview to see what
practices are in place? That would be no one.
I must admit to being surprised that the leading news journal of the
higher education community would be so quick to jump to such a startling
conclusion about that community based on the case of one single
university. What also is startling is how this presumably respected
journal can generalize an industry-wide situation based upon
unsupportable conclusions at one institution. The Indictment of
"Colleges' Digital Pirates" in the title of this article seems to be
straight from entertainment industry propaganda.
I am fully supportive of artists and other creators being fairly
compensated for their intellectual property. I am fully against people
utilizing others intellectual property without providing any fair
compensation requested for its use. But we can't reasonably discuss the
issues of intellectual property when some will so blithely jump to
conclusions without considering all sides of an issue. I would hope that
those journalistic standards so often touted by journalists could apply
to this topic too. Is that too much to ask?
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