Citing the burdens of responding to the RIAA's flood of pre-litigation letters, Ohio University has decided to monitor its network in order to block all use of P2P file sharing software. Students caught using the software will have their network access disabled.
This policy may temporarily relieve the IT department, but it doesn't get us any closer to a long-term solution to deal with file sharing. It won't stop "piracy," as students will simply migrate towards other readily-accessible sharing tools, and it certainly doesn't put any more money in artists' pockets.
But this policy -- like related schemes implemented by other colleges -- does create yet more collateral damage to academic freedom. Want to use P2P to distribute your own writing or to acquire public domain works for class? Too bad. Meanwhile, computer science students will need to ask permission first to tinker with and study P2P software. Ohio University says it's targeting a few applications, but it's unclear whether the policy might extend to a variety of tools. For instance, there are lots of new "personal server" applications being developed for private sharing of movies, photos, and other data -- how exactly will the university draw the line?
Blocking P2P is bad not only for the university and its students, but also for innovation more generally. Today's computer science students are tomorrow's technology leaders, creating tools that can empower millions. Remember, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, and myriad other online technologies were created by students at universities, and innovative companies like Skype, Joost and BitTorrent are built on basic P2P technologies.
The University's policy is misguided, but the bottom line is that educational institutions shouldn't be put in the position of wasting resources on the RIAA's copyright nastygrams in the first place. The record labels need to get out of the business of intimidating schools and let fans keep sharing in a way that gets artists paid.