With the RIAA once again attempting to get universities in the States to hand over details of file-sharing students, Harvard professor Charles Neeson has published a demand (co-written with Wendy Seltzer) for the Ivy League institution to tell the record labels to go screw themselves:
But mere understanding is no reason for a university to voluntarily assist the RIAA with its threatening and abusive tactics. Instead, we should be assisting our students both by explaining the law and by resisting the subpoenas that the RIAA serves upon us. We should be deploying our clinical legal student training programs to defend our targeted students. We should be lobbying Congress for a roll back of the draconian copyright law that the copyright industry has forced upon us. Intellectual property can be efficient when its boundaries are relatively self-evident.
But when copyright protection starts requiring the cooperation of uninvolved parties, at the cost of both financial and mission harm, those external costs outweigh its benefits. We need not condone infringement to conclude that 19th- and 20th-century copyright law is poorly suited to promote 21st-century knowledge. The old copyright-business models are inefficient ways to give artists incentives in the new digital environment.
The University’s educational mission is broader than the RIAA’s demands. We don’t have all the answers either, but rather than capitulating to special interests, we should continue to search for fair solutions that represent the University’s mission, its students, and the law in a way that educates students to be leaders of the digital 21st century.
The "special interests" is important here, of course: the RIAA doesn't have any claim to be the sole arbiter of musical law - it's a members organisation of vested powers, not a legally mandated independent body working in the name of culture. Let's hope Harvard chooses the opposite to an easy life, and rolling over for the corporate world - although when was the last time academia stood up to commerce?