Moving to Freedom, .Org

Who will own (and police) our digital future?


The RIAA and MPAA want the colleges and universities (and corporations and your grandmother and etc.) to enforce our out-of-control copyright laws. It’s disturbing how much power these organizations already have, and how much more power they think they should have in dictating how free the flow of information should be. Our future is digital, with infinite possibilities for freedom, but these guys would prefer that artificial scarcity rules the game.

(via Against Monopoly)


Reid’s amendment is a clear illustration of the effectiveness of lobbying. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think the trade groups actually wrote the text of the law. It vests in these groups a vast amount of money—taxpayer money—and, hence, power. The industry has already managed to move into a quasi-policing role, frequently working with federal, state, and local authorities on copyright and conspiracy investigations.

The bill also follows a continuing, troubling pattern of Congress deputizing and forcing corporations (money laundering laws, for example) and other private entities to monitor their customers for law-breaking, and to absorb the costs of compliance (the latest example is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act, which deputizes ISPs and private banks to prevent customers from patronizing gambling sites).


One would think that higher education administrators would prefer information be more liquid than coagulated and monopolized. Even films and music contain important information subject to pedagogy and academic research. The fact that copyrighted textbooks can cost $100 a pop represents is not just the unfortunate result of a property claim to information, for example, but is a concrete barrier to the actual flow of information. Google’s idea of putting massive academic libraries online for free—a project from which they’ve retreated bit by bit because of pressure from publishers and other copyright-holders—would in theory be a huge boon to the business of education, the dream of a John Milton or a Samuel Johnson.

Rather than enforcing anti-sharing rules, colleges ought to be fighting the expansion of copyright law, and investing in and exploring filesharing software and sites. Much of the content that an institution of higher education provides is also already available on the Internet, and colleges would be better off getting into the business of sorting it, evaluating it, disseminating it, and re-presenting it—the sort of thing their expertise is good for.

That Harry Reid is doing the bidding of the entertainment industry isn’t surprising. But the very essence of a university ought to place it in fierce opposition to demands that it police its students for the excessive sharing of information. On the contrary, colleges and universities ought to be working toward an environment in which information can be shared with more freedom.

—Crispin Sartwell, “Policing the Academy for Pirates