At the same time as major vendors of downloadable music like iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic are making lots of great music (including some major labels) available without crippling copy-protection, the entertainment industry is getting ever nastier in its rear-guard action to crack down on file sharing.
The big news this week was, of course, the conviction of Jammie Thomas for illegally sharing copyrighted music on Kazaa, in the first case of its kind to actually go to trial.
Thomas, 30, was ordered to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case.
While I’m certainly not a proponent of sharing copyrighted files on open networks, what bothers me is the news media’s unquestioning acceptance of the industry’s party line, like in this sentence from NPR’s web story on the trial:
Since 2003, record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores.
I think there are lots of reasons that major label music sales have declined in recent years, not the least of which has been the outrageous prices the labels have been charging for new CDs.
In what is perhaps an even more long reaching piece of news this week there is language in the College Access and Opportunity Act of 2007 (H.R. 3746) that mandates specific actions by universities to act on behalf of the entertainment industry. In the section of the bill titled SEC. 484. INSTITUTIONAL AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE INFORMATION FOR STUDENTS, they have inserted language that would require higher education institutions to:
(A)provide evidence to the Secretary that the institution has notified students on its policies and procedures related to the illegal downloading and distribution of copyrighted materials by students as required under sub-12 section (a)(1)(R);
‘‘(B) undertake a review, which shall be submitted to the Secretary, of its procedures and plans related to preventing illegal downloading and distribution to determine the program’s effectiveness and implement changes to the program if the changes are needed; and
‘‘(C) provide evidence to the Secretary that the institution has developed a plan for implementing a technology-based deterrent to prevent the illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.
Never mind whether the Secretary of Education has any background to evaluate these kinds of topics, or whether technology-based deterrents are effective or have unwarranted side-effects like preventing legitimate activity.
The bill further goes on to require the Secretary of Education to annually identify:
(A) the 25 institutions of higher education participating in programs under this title, which have received during the previous calendar year the highest number of writen 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 authorized representative; and
`(B) from among those 25 institutions described in paragraph (1), those which have received during the previous calendar year at least 100 notices alleging infringement of copyright by users of the institution’s information technology systems, as described in paragraph (1).’.
as if the industry and their agents are infallible arbiters of activities that constituted copyright violations, regardless of any complaint or dissension the institution may care to make.
Don’t our elected representatives have anything better to spend their time on than this? And why single out higher education in this war? What about the infringement going on in commercial Internet providers?