Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, participated in a web chat about the RIAA’s new Anti-Piracy Campaign on US university campuses — sending pre-litigation notices to digital natives accused of illegal activity on peer-to-peer networks, which the universities are asked to pass along to the students. The Berkman Center’s Lewis Hyde tossed in a question. Here’s Lewis’s question:
“The recording industry regularly asks colleges to police their students in regard to infringement. Why is it the task of colleges to do this police work, rather than the police?
“Sharing files over the internet is not illegal per se; that depends on what’s in the file and on what it is being used for. An accusation of music piracy is not a proof of music piracy: questions of evidence, and of fair use, and of educational exceptions to infringement come into play.
“If colleges ‘pass along messages’ that direct students to ‘pay lump sums to record companies,’ colleges become an arm of the recording industry, bypassing their educational role (teaching about fair use, for example) and bypassing legal due process, if in fact there is a criminal charge to be made.
“For these reasons I believe that colleges should decline this RIAA request. How would Mr. Sherman respond to the background assumption here, that the industry, the colleges, and law enforcement are distinct institutions, and that there is good reason to keep their separate roles clear?”
Go here for Mr. Sherman’s response.
Cary Sherman also addressed the issue (with a Harvard specific angle) in an Op-Ed in today’s Crimson:
“Opinion on this page and elsewhere has pointed toward a larger question: Should universities act simply as passive conduits, complying with the bare minimum under the law and essentially turning a blind eye to the wanton theft of creative works? Specifically for Harvard, a university that has always perceived itself as a leader among its peers, that’s a path devoid of conviction or leadership…
…We all know how aggressively university faculty and administrators pursue plagiarism. Yet they say nothing when their students illegally take thousands of songs without paying for them. This double standard is unacceptable. The Internet has made plagiarism difficult to control, just like illegal downloading, but no one suggests that universities should pursue a different “business model” and simply accept plagiarism.”
I’m not sure I like the plagiarism analogy…Universities certainly haven’t asked the RIAA, or anyone else, to prosecute plagiarism in the music industry (where there is plenty). It makes sense that combating piracy is pretty low on the priority list for universities with their hands full trying to provide an education, produce research, and deal with law enforcement issues more directly impacting student life (underage drinking, drug abuse).