Music, File-Sharing, and the Bastards at USC

iTunes Publisher is a neat little Mac program that puts out an HTML index of all the music on one’s computer.

Here are my MP3s. Imagine if everyone at Dartmouth did this; it would be almost as good as having Napster back.

As Dartmouth has done its best to “throttle” file-sharing programs and severely slow down music trading, USC has banned it altogether. Though Kazaa (or Gnutella, Soulseek, etc.) may be effectively crippled on both networks, the two strategies underscore a big difference: Dartmouth recognizes that most file-sharing is secondary to its academic mission, gives file-sharing traffic a reduced priority on the network, and respects the privacy of its students by not prying into their data. USC, on the other hand, a priori considers its students to be petty crooks and proceeds logically from there to investigation and disciplinary threats.

Of course, there are unintended consequences of USC’s policy (beyond angry students). First off, file-sharing is actually a pretty hot research topic right now. It’s called P2P, and even IBM and Microsoft are taking stabs at it. Networks like Gnutella are useful in researching topics like scalability and network architecture. Apparently, USC isn’t too involved in this sort of thing.

So, perhaps another consequence is more relevent: file-sharing need not be copyright infringement, and such legal use is indiscriminately blocked at USC. Then again, USC (especially the law school) is known for its close relationship with the entertainment industry, and so this may not be entirely unintended. RIAA considers every file sent over the Internet to be a tiny bit of lost revenue, whether the file was illegally copied or not. Unfortunately, the USC policy does decrease the University’s exposure to lawsuits that might be filed by the record labels and other content owners.

When will Dartmouth’s risk-averting tendencies overcome its concern for student freedom? Pretty soon, if recent administrative decisions (e.g., dorm locks, keg jump, etc.) are any indication. On the other hand, I get the impression that those managing Dartmouth’s computer network are basically techno-libertarians and that College administrators, generally clueless about technogy, aren’t even aware that there’s much to administrate online. (perhaps a reason why Dartmouth is the most tech-intensive colleges around without really trying) At best, this just means that Dartmouth won’t be proactive in restricting its students’ online activities. But when RIAA starts directing serious legal threats at other schools, Risk Management will get the message.

And that will be that. Back to cassette tapes.

Hmmm, for some reason no Nina Nastasia tracks made it into my music index. Must be a bug.