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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of  Academic Computing and User Services

Is That a Slant or a Cliff?

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 "Peering
at the Pirates" was an article by Brock Read entitled "The 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 network."

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 of
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 business practice.

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 the 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 intellectual property.

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?
 


Originally published, September 2007 -- Please note that information published in Benchmarks Online is likely to degrade over time, especially links to various Websites. To make sure you have the most current information on a specific topic, it may be best to search the UNT Website - http://www.unt.edu . You can also search Benchmarks Online - http://www.unt.edu/benchmarks/archives/back.htm as well as consult the UNT Helpdesk - http://www.unt.edu/helpdesk/ Questions and comments should be directed to
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