This Week in LIS - 1 August 2008

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Headline of the Week: Bad Week in Washington

A notable week from the nation’s capital … as a former Alaska resident, I took note of the federal indictments against Alaska’s long-time senator Ted Stevens for allegedly accepting and hiding gifts from an oil service company in the state. The hullaballoo about his legal troubles have dredged up a fair amount of press on Senator Stevens, the former chair of the Senate Commerce Committee (with oversight over ecommerce and the Internet). I have a nickname for Senator Stevens – “Tubes” – based on a 2006 recording of him explaining the Internet. The Daily Show and Jon Stewart showcase this little exchange well. (If you liked that, try this one too). Here’s the quote: “the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

I raise the issue of “Tubes” this week along with the news that the Senate and House conference committee working on the Higher Education Reauthorization Act has completed its work and the resulting bill has now passed both chambers of Congress and is headed to the President’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law. While the act does many good things to keep federal funding flowing, it does other not-so-good things like create cost “watch lists” and an “extraordinary number” of new reporting and compliance requirements. The American Council on Education has written that these new requirements will add significantly to administrative and personnel costs for all institutions.

Also remaining the final bill are a number of provisions relating directly to peer-to-peer file sharing technology and copyright enforcement, despite significant efforts by EDUCAUSE and others to have these provisions removed. Sponsored principally by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these new provisions require colleges and universities to:

  • provide access to licensed commercial downloading services, and
  • implement traffic filtering technologies designed specifically to identify and block peer-to-peer transfer of copyrighted files.

In my opinion, this is bad law, written by for-profit corporations and enacted by legislators who don’t have an accurate understanding of the technology and issues involved (here’s the connection to “Tubes” as an example of lawmakers who are creating policy on technologies they don’t have a full understanding of …). To be clear: I do not condone illegal file sharing and fully support application of reasonable intellectual property rights, but look at the remarkable extensions these provisions are now making:

  • this law now appears to require colleges and universities to provide licensed digital entertainment in some fashion for our students. I am not convinced by any stretch that it should be an institution’s responsibility to do this. We are educational institutions not entertainment institutions. I’ll accept we should teach students their rights and responsibilities with regard to file sharing and intellectual property, but it should end there. Students should provide their own personal (licensed) entertainment – not institutions.
  • this law now appears to extend some responsibility and culpability to colleges and universities acting as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the actions of their users. I believe network users should be responsible for their actions (and if they illegally share files for which they do not have license to share, they should be held accountable). Colleges and universities cannot reasonably control the actions of their users on the network, nor should we be forced to finance and implement snooping technologies to support the failing business models of for-profit corporations. Our users should be responsible for their actions, and the corporations should be responsible for prosecuting infringement as they can prove it. ISPs (including colleges and universities) should comply with legal subpoenas as appropriate, but we begin treading on speech rights if we go down the road of spying (and blocking) traffic based on content. I guess we’ll need to search all envelopes and packages coming to and from the campus to make sure no one is sending burned CDs or DVDs of copyrighted content as well …

I won’t even go into the technical discussion of how reliable some of these snooping technologies are, or their ability to keep up with the ever escalating arms race of encrypted file sharing. I also note that today the FCC has ruled against Comcast for packet shaping its network, which is one of the preferred solutions offered by the MPAA and RIAA through the new reauthorization act. (Disclaimer: Luther also currently packet shapes our network, though we are planning a move to a model that reduces packet shaping significantly).

William Patry, Google’s Senior Copyright Counsel, and former copyright counsel to the House of Representatives writes a good piece on this that includes the actual bill language and the explanatory text. He also covers the troubling story of the MPAA’s bungled statistics on campus piracy. Patry sums it up well:

This raises one of the features of Washington DC that rightly baffles those outside the Beltway: how is that a trade association gets an issue so wrong, but then still manages to get legislation passed that addresses a non-problem that the association deliberately concocted?

I’d answer that question with one word: “Tubes.” That’s how.

TWILIS On Holiday

There will be no This Week in LIS next Friday, August 8th. Publication will resume Friday, August 15th.

Upcoming Dates

LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

LIS Website Changes

  • A new theme is being tested internally in LIS. The new theme takes into account feedback received to date on the new site. We continue to test and evaluate the theme and plan to deploy the theme as the default theme shortly.
  • Significant software updates have been put in place over the last week bringing the site up to the current release.

Notes from LIS Council

Among the topics discussed at this week’s Council meeting were:

  • Follow-up discussion from our summer planning day, including review of proposed 2008-09 objectives, and the notes from our brainstorming sessions.
  • Status update on our ActiveCampus deployment.

NITLE Opportunities

As a member of NITLE (National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education), Luther has the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of developmental and training programs intended for faculty, librarians, and information technologists. Events listed at the link below are currently open for registration by Luther participants. LIS Staff who are interested in participating in an event should speak with Christopher Barth. Faculty who are interested in participating should speak with Lori Stanley. Participation is contingent upon available funding and program acceptance.

Complete List of NITLE Opportunities

Notable Internet Resource of the Week: Drivepricing.com

Drivepricing.com is a mashup with Google Maps to calculate roughly the cost of a road trip using the point of origin, destination, the miles per gallon your vehicle gets, and the price of fuel at one zip code along the way (probably your starting zip or ending zip). The site will compute your mileage and estimated cost. You can get one-way or round-trip pricing as well as adjust the grade of fuel used. Additional useful features would be the ability to get accurate gas prices in the zip code where you’re likely to run out (given that you start with a full tank), and the ability to drag-change your route (like Google Maps does).

On the web at http://www.drivepricing.com/

Around the Web

Here are a few links to interesting developments over the past week:

  • Open Source and Standards
    • None
  • Security and Privacy
    • None