I don’t know about these free culture kids.
For the afternoon session of the IS27K conference yesterday, we broke off into discussion groups based on professional sectors. I was with the students, obviously. There were 8 of us, all part of the “free culture” movement except for me. We started off discussing a software program called “Audible Magic.” The program automatically detects and filters copyrighted material (music, movies), and can be used on closed networks such as those at universities.
The company’s core copyright-sensing technology, CopySense®, accurately identifies digital or broadcast media content based on the perceptual characteristics of the content itself. Built on a patented electronic fingerprinting process, the technology is robust, efficient, and massively scalable.
The software can be set up on a university’s computer network to filter content sent between student computers (the students in the group said it had already been launched by 80+ universities, but it turns out the number is closer to, like, a handful).
There are legitimate concerns here: should a university be spending its time and resources to, essentially, safeguard some other entities’ “property?” Will the particular files being transmitted by particular ISP addresses be logged, and students identified, because that brings up privacy concerns (not to mention potential serious legal ramifications for identified students). And what incentive do universities have to implement this software in the first place? Are the RIAA or other content owners pressuring them?
But, no, the big concern in this breakout group was the “open flow of information.” A university can’t just step in and regulate what we can and can’t share with one another!
Well, yeah, it can. You’re using its networks to transmit this information; a university is well within its rights to control the use of its networks. If the university thought students were transmitting large quantities of child pornography or materials depicting violent criminal activity or something, I think most people could agree that the university could step in to prevent this illegal material from being shared on its networks. Why should it be any different with “illegal” music and movies? I mean, sure, you can make the case that this kind of sharing shouldn’t necessarily be illegal, or obviously isn’t of the same severity level. But you can still see why a university might want to at least take steps to circumvent it. I’m not saying this kind of hyper-vigilance is necessarily desirable. But it’s not completely incomprehensible either.
Some of the free culture people invoked “fair use,” and brought up the fact that some students might have legitimate reasons to share copyrighted material — maybe someone made a documentary for a class project that uses copyrighted music, and they’re trying to send the video to a friend? Maybe someone is in a pop culture class, and needs to share copyrighted TV content for a class assignment?
Righttttt … I mean, I don’t doubt that these kind of things do take place. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. You hear these kinds of arguments a lot — what about the transformative, mash-up kind of content that might get caught in a content filter? The key then, I think, is to find methods to make sure this kind of content does not get blocked, not prevent any attempts at blocking all together.
For the record, I’m not a champion of filters and other technologies that make it even easier for big companies like the RIAA to go after individual infringers. I think the whole system right now is in need of vast overhauls. But I’m saying that it makes sense why people would want to implement these kind of technologies considering the current legal climate, and making red herring arguments based on unrealistic examples isn’t helping anybody.
This is kind of a meandering post, I know. Anybody have any thoughts on this audible magic business?
Read Full Post »