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Texas Beats Tennessee in Clue Bowl

On April 29, 2008, the Governor of Tennessee signed the country's first law requiring campus networks to solve the problem of digital copyright infringement. High on their success in the Volunteer State, entertainment industry lobbyists moved on to Texas. If you can fool them in Nashville, why not Austin?

The stage was certainly set for a repeat performance. The Texas House of Representatives had already asked its Business and Industry Committee to research the issue and suggest legislation:

Study the problem of digital piracy and make recommendations for legislative changes to address the problem facing movie producers and distributors, retailers, book publishers, the music industry, universities, and other copyright holders of creative content. This review should include an examination of the impact on state and local government sales tax revenues.

On May 15, the Committee held a hearing (archived on video) featuring the usual parade of witnesses from the RIAA and MPAA and also Brian Roberts, CIO of the University of Texas at Austin. The Committee's report is now available, and it appears that they actually listened to Brian and read the material he provided. Two documents in particular figured prominently in the Committee's conclusions: A study by the Common Solutions Group of the most popular network-filtering products, and a letter submitted to the U.S. Congress in April by noted computer scientists Gene Spafford and Ed Felton under the auspices of the Association for Computing Machinery.

After thoroughly considering all they had heard and read, the Committee issued the following recommendation:

Create legislation encouraging schools (elementary school, middle schools, high schools, and colleges) to incorporate into their curricula on ethics and character a program regarding digital piracy.

That's it. No mandatory filters. No drum beat for a three-strikes policy. No requirement to count DMCA notices and justify the numbers. In short, none of the discredited, ineffective, nonsensical provisions that have polluted legislative proposals at the federal level and in Tennessee. Instead, the Texas legislature has produced a condensed example of clear-thinking wisdom, including these (slightly edited) observations: 

  • Technology cannot stop all (or even most) unauthorized sharing of copyrighted material without interfering with the efficiency of the networks essential to research and teaching, and can suppress legitimate traffic along with infringing traffic.
  • Software cannot distinguish between illicit copying and such copying for legal "fair use" purposes.
  • It is expensive to install filtering software, which would drive up the cost of college tuition.
  • Filters raise security risks because they require monitoring all traffic flowing over a network.
  • College campuses no longer offer superior access to the Internet compared to the general population. Most off-campus residences have access to the fast connection necessary for digital piracy.
  • The amount of losses attributable to on-campus college students may be overstated, as evidenced by an erroneous MPAA study exaggerating these figures by a factor of 15.
  • In an environment that is supposed to foster free thought and open discourse, digital surveillance has a chilling effect on the student population.

The entertainment industry and its well-paid representatives will undoubtedly continue their state-by-state hunt for easy targets, but those targets now have an enlightened analysis from Texas as an added shield.

Let's hear it for the Lone Star State!

Steve

This message reflects the opinions of the author, and not necessarily those of EDUCAUSE or its members.

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