Spin Machine: Penn State’s Download Service

Frank’ll love this article (via Kevin Doran on pho) about Penn State’s new download service. It doesn’t make me feel any better than I did before

“Vaught said the program will not be free for the university, but it will be provided to the students at no additional cost. ‘The university bulk buys newspapers and then provides them to students, at no additional charge,” he said. “It’s the same as the movies in the HUB; they are being paid for, but not by students.'”

The money comes from somewhere.  If students aren’t paying for it through increased tuition, then some other service is losing money to fund this program.  Nice to see that the university is already trying to hide the costs.

“Mahon said illegally downloading music is a big issue and is causing traditional music stores to close their doors, but it also has an effect on students here at Penn State. The university wants the work of students who write plays and produce television shows to be protected, he said. ‘[The students] have a lot at stake with copyright,’ Mahon said.”

They’re doing all this to protect students’ copyrights! That’s why the service covers RIAA music only (maybe some indie labels, too, but still a limited selection of music and copyrighted works in general).  Yet again, someone has narrowed the public interest in copyright (in this case, framed in terms of the students’) into nothing more than the private interest in compensation.  But that private interest is really just a proxy for part of the public interest: balancing incentivizing production of new works with the societal benefits of unimpaired use (see here).  The students’ stake in copyright is broader than protection of works, whether theirs or others.

“Spanier said the university wants to put a legal file-sharing system in place before any students get in trouble with the law.”

But this program doesn’t allow sharing. It allows streaming from a central server and use of songs on portable devices – it doesn’t even allow you to burn CDs.  But that’s enough, right?

“Although he will not be able to burn CDs, [student Evan] Schoss said, ‘It’s good to just have an MP3 collection.'”

But you won’t have an MP3 collection. You don’t get to download songs, and you only get access as long as you’re connected to the network – once you leave for the summer, it’s back to KaZaA, Evan.  You don’t even get MP3s – you get WMA or AAC-M4P or some other DRMed format.

“The Associated Press and Claudia Vargas contributed to this report.”

If this were just a student journalist, then I could understand why they wouldn’t question anything or get any contrary opinions. But the AP? They didn’t even bother to get their facts right: “The program will not allow anonymous downloads such as those on Kazaa.” Ask the 261 about anonymity on KaZaA, please.

Echoing Frank’s comments about this seeming like MS’ ignoring student software piracy, Kevin Doran asserted on pho: “Aside from the easy and well-deserved ‘too little, too late’ analysis and an unlikelihood of impacting P2P use, my prime gripe here is that an RIAA streaming jukebox is aimed at displacing the college radio experience – and wiping out exposure to and competition from the indy label artists who are their historical stock in trade.  Added to the transparent effort to gain early-demographic market share from a captive audience lacking choice in vendor selection, I see nothing laudable about this wolf in sheep’s clothing that foists a closed, major label mandate onto what should be a free-market dynamic.”

Berkeley Researchers on DRM (and Windows iTunes DRM)

Deirdre Mulligan and Aaron Burstein of Berkeley’s Samuelson Clinic and John Han of SIMS have released, “How DRM-based Content Delivery Systems Disrupt Expectations of ‘Personal Use'”, in which they test and evaluate the DRM of various music services. If you haven’t read Mulligan and Burstein’s previous papers on DRM, see the links in this post.

The new paper notes that iTunes prevents ripped songs from being reburned to CD. I had never heard of this before, so I decided to test if it were true for the Windows version. In my tests using iTunes to do the initial burning, MusicMatch to do the ripping, and Easy CD Creator to do the reburning, I was able to create fully functional, DRM-free MP3s. I also successfully captured audio as it was outputted to the soundcard using TotalRecorder.