Stop Snitchin’

I came across an interesting article from the September 7th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The article, The First Close Look at Colleges’ Digital Pirates, (complete article behind paywall) details a joint venture of Illinois State University and the “entertainment industry” to:

give both the university and the entertainment industry a detailed snapshot of music and movie piracy on a typical college campus.”

This venture is called the Digital Citizen Project, and the main feature of the project was that:

the university opened up its campus network, collecting never-before-seen data on what files students were swapping and how they share them“.

My initial reaction when scanning the article was that Illinois State had abandoned its traditional role as an educational institution and it had decided to capitulate and surrender to the rapacious need of the RIAAs and MPAAs of the world to hunt down and sue college students.

Recently more voices have been calling on schools to resist what they see as unreasonable intrusions by the likes of the RIAA. See, Universities to RIAA: Take a Hike from the Berkman Center and this op-ed from the Harvard Crimson.

And most shocking of all was the fact that I read that a Cheryl A. Elzy, Dean of Libraries was helping to lead this effort. A librarian! I can imagine librarian groups like Library Juice would find it abhorrent that a librarian would become a tool of the corporate elites.

I also questioned why a librarian would be given such a key role in what I consider more of an IT issue. If students are using school property (computers, bandwith etc.) to trade pirated copies of movies and music then I would assume IT would be the ones to track it, curtail it etc.

And as the Chronicle article states, this project:

“did not sit well with some of Illinois State’s technology officers. Some IT-staff members worried that the industry group would start trying to tinker with the campus network. Others were just reluctant to turn their network into a testing ground.”

Answers to some of my questions came after I did a little more digging. In government Subcommittees and Committee hearings, Ms. Elzy does a rather eloquent job of providing the reasons the university and she herself became involved in the Digital Citizen Project. In regards to how her role as a librarian makes her the right person to be involved in this project she stated:

But why a librarian? Why not a Chief Information Officer or some other technology expert? Why is a librarian the campus DMCA agent? To us at Illinois State University the answers to all those questions make perfect sense. The four project leaders for Illinois State’s Digital Citizen Project represent diverse perspectives. We have an academic CIO, a student technology director, a library dean, and a nationally known technology consultant. My operation interprets literally dozens of copyright questions almost daily. Copyright expertise on my campus, and on a lot of campuses across the country, is most intensively developed in the library. While copyright protects intellectual property, it is my library’s job to put that property, that information, into the hands of the students, teachers, researchers, and casual readers who need it. Technology is only a means to an end in a whole lot of ways. Illegal peer-to-peer downloading is NOT a technology problem. It doesn’t have a “technology” solution. It is about legal access to materials or information resources. It is connecting users with the right tools. It is education and changing behaviors. How we do that is what we have been exploring for the past eighteen months and will describe for you today.

I like that she clearly stated to the elected officials that the issue of illegal downloading does not have a perfect technology-based solution and that if groups like the RIAA want today’s generation of students to show greater respect for copyright then they have to ensure their member groups make their music, movies, etc. more readily available when and where people want to use them.

One issue I have with this Digital Citizen Project is that while the Chronicle article clearly details how much of the funding comes from the entertainment industry, I can’t seem to find any details of this on the DCP web site itself. (I may just not be clicking on the right page however). By not making this details very clear on the web site they may give the impression that they are trying to hide the extent to which the entertainment industry is involved in such a seemingly invasive peek into the inner workings of a university’s communication infrastructure.

And finally, I’m feeling pretty unhip that I think I’ve only heard about 2 of the songs from the 50 Most Popular Downloaded Songs at Illinois State.