Another Congressional Hearing on P2P Scheduled for Tomorrow

Last week, The Chronicle told us that the House Committee on Science and Technology will be holding a hearing on peer-to-peer filesharing on college and university campuses. That hearing, entitled “The Role of Technology in Reducing Illegal Filesharing: A University Perspective” has been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 EDT. The Hearing Charter (pdf) is a very good, relatively unbiased summary of the issue and related challenges. Aside from the continued use of the word “piracy,’ (yes, I know we’ve lost that battle), the only major gripe I have with the document is the uncritical acceptance of “piracy loss” figures from the industries and their “research.” Four of the five witnesses are university administrators, including Cheryl Asper Elzy who is involved in Illinois University’s Digital Citizen Project; the fifth witness is the president of Audible Magic.

There is what appears to be a link to view the hearing live using Real Player or a compatible player.

Update: The video of the panel is now online as are the chairman’s opening statement and the written testimonies of each of the witnesses:

  • Rep. Bart Gordon, Chairman
  • Dr. Charles Wight, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Studies of University of Utah
  • Dr. Adrian Sannier, Vice President and University Technology Officer of Arizona State University on leave from Iowa State University
  • Mr. Vance Ikezoye, President, CEO ofAudible Magic Corporation
  • Mrs. Cheryl Asper Elzy, Dean, University Libraries of Illinois State University and Management Team member of ISU’s Digital Citizen Project
  • Dr. Greg Jackson, Vice President and Chief Information Officer of the University of Chicago

This hearing was much more balanced that the recent one held by the Judiciary Committee. Most of the committee and all of the witnesses agreed that not only is there not a 100% effective technological solution to this challenge but that education must also be a component. Mrs. Elzy noted that not only is technology not the only answer but that too much reliance on technology could actually harm other efforts. The current offering of legally-available music and movie options were severely criticized by witnesses as failing to meet consumers’ demands and driving much of the copyright infringement. In his opening statement, Dr. Jackson said that current offerings meet consumers’ needs “inconsistently, incompatably, inefficiently, inconveniently, and incompletely.” Dr. Sannier noted that the single biggest step forward in meeting this challenge is the development of DRM-free music legally available for purchase; he later reinforced this point when he told the committee that his campus’ current product, Ruckus, does not work with students’ iPods thus undermining its usefulness. Fair use was strongly defended by witnesses, most memorably by Dr. Sannier who asserted that “if we were to allow stringent enforcement of copyright to erode fair use, the country as a whole would be much the worse for it.”

Two of the more bizarre or harsh incidents in this hearing both came from congressmen. In comparing this challenge to immigration and the money necessary to secure the border, Rep. Hill (D-IN) asked if we should also be willing to spend what it takes to meet this challenge. He then stopped this line of questioning by reminding the witnesses that they knew where that money is going to come from; I wish he had told us because I was completely baffled by this comparison and that statement. The harshest moment came when Rep. Feeney (R-FL) reminded the witnesses that not is he also on the Judiciary Committee but they are still taking this issue very seriously and that they will not “be patient for long with universities that have not been aggressive” in addressing this challenge. He also expressed his disappointment that some of the witnesses had, in his opinion, minimized the role of technology, a charge that the witnesses refuted.

I’ve uploaded my messy, incomplete, and hastily scrawled transcript if anyone would like to wade through it to pick out other gems. I think I’ve covered the meat of the hearing above but you’ll only get it all if you watch the hearing (you can skip the first 30-35 minutes if you read the witnesses’ opening remarks).

Update 2: Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle have provided their takes on the hearing.



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