Today, Chris Dawson reminds us of the proposed legislation by Congressman Ric Keller (R-Fla.) that would allow schools to tap into existing federal education funds for the adoption of technological solutions to the epidemic of illegal downloading on college campuses. (Never mind that 70% of all universities already take steps to protect their networks from the ravages of rampant, uncontrolled file-sharing.) I first wrote on this subject a few weeks ago (see Leaving Education IT to clueless politicians). Since that time, we've learned that some colleges don't even tell their students that they might be under investigation for music or film piracy. Just last week, it was announced that Fed cutbacks strips schools of tech funding. (See Penny-wise and pound foolish — or just plain nuts?.) Isn't Congressman Keller's legislation just "robbing Peter to pay Paul"?
I cannot reiterate strongly enough that it is not our job to track down music-sharing pirates at our institutions. And who ARE the real pirates anyway?
The students? Most of them are too young and too naive to appreciate the scope of their 'crime' against -- NOT just the the RIAA -- but against hard working musicians who are already getting only pennies on the dollar in royalty payments from their recording partners. The schools, colleges and universities, for not stopping their students from using institutional resources? Nope. Not them either.
The real pirates are those file-sharing vendors like Kazaa and Limewire who know damned good and well how their services are being used -- and who themselves are ultimately making money off of this illegal activity.
In the end, as Education IT specialists. We have but one responsibility -- to support to the best of our ability the IT needs of our students and of our educators. In doing so, we have the responsibility to protect the integrity of our computing network and to enforce codes of conduct which set an example for our students and help prevent abuse which can lead to substantial performance and security degradation.
We are not policemen and we certainly do not represent the interests of the RIAA -- nor do we have any obligation whatsoever to provide the RIAA any information regarding our students. Only federal and state authorities can compel us (with a search warrant) to provide any information about the activities of our students. In fact, for us to take on any such role places us squarely at odds with the principles of academic freedom. We simply cannot be perceived as looking over our students' (or our educators') shoulders.
If the RIAA really wants to stop the wholesale piracy of music and film, they will find a way to meet their customers' (and potential customers') needs in an economical fashion which leverages the technology in a fashion beneficial to all.