Last week, the RIAA celebrated the signing of a ridiculous new law in Tennessee that says:

Each public and private institution of higher education in the state that has student residential computer networks shall:


[R]easonably attempt to prevent the infringement of copyrighted works over the institution's computer and network resources, if such institution receives fifty (50) or more legally valid notices of infringement as prescribed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 within the preceding year.

While the entertainment industry failed to get "hard" requirements for universities in the Higher Education Act passed by Congress earlier this year, the RIAA succeeded in Tennessee (and is pushing in other states) with this provision that gives Big Content the ability to hold universities hostage through the use of infringement notices. Moreover, the new rules will cost Tennessee a pretty penny -- in the cost review attached to the Tennessee bill, the state's Fiscal Review Committee estimates that the new obligations will initially cost the state a whopping $9.5 million for software, hardware, and personnel, with recurring annual costs of more than $1.5 million for personnel and maintenance. Not a penny of this will go to artists, nor to any of the record labels RIAA represents.

Unfortunately, the entertainment industry lobby seems to be succeeding, bit-by-bit, in persuading legislators to coerce universities into buying "infringement suppression" technologies -- expensive technologies that won't stop file sharing on campus networks. Even if the technologies did work (magical thinking in light of encryption), does anyone think they would somehow force students back into record stores or the iTunes Store? After all, today students on campus can swap multiple gigabytes hand-to-hand for pennies (see, e.g., blank DVD-R disks, or the price of portable hard drives, as well as the ease of copying from iPod to iPod).

It makes no sense to force universities to spend millions on technologies that will hobble innovation on campus while failing to stop file-sharing. Why not use those millions to compensate creators and copyright owners, and thereby make file-sharing legal, instead? Now, more than ever, the universities need to come forward with a collective licensing proposal that will protect their campus communities and their own bottom lines.

Meanwhile, universities under the gun should make sure to shun the hype of network filtering when possible and seek solutions more amenable to teaching and academic freedom -- our whitepaper on copyright infringement technologies on campus networks is a good place to start. For more detail, EDUCAUSE has in-depth resources on P2P, file sharing, and the Higher Education Act.

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