Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Students like free stuff!

Major breaking news: College students like free music. This garners headlines from the Associated Press on August 21, 2005. They should have devoted their resources to the profile of a pair of wonderful twin girls--young ladies-- turning 13 today, but instead, their editors blasted the wires with an in-depth piece about collegiate administrators who are "shocked, shocked" that the little darlings are still opting to risk the wrath of the major music labels by illegally "sharing" files. (Which, by the way, is a mighty low-key crime. How about "stealing?")

To the point: many colleges are footing the bills for student access to subscription-based music-- legal music-- that the poor lambs can't transfer to their iPods. Therefore, they find it in themselves to "share" their music through the various peer-to-peer vehicles available. Student largesse, though, raises goosebumps on institutional hackles, since the United States Supreme Court ruled that facilitating, encouraging, or enabling this type of generosity could make the owners of the networks-- the schools-- liable.

Let's set the tone properly: free can be good. Free is hard to pass up. Free is tempting, and given the miniscule odds of being sued for sharing, it doesn't take an economics degree to see where the problem lies.

It's very easy to see why the students feel as though the zero-downside risk is well worth the reward. Even if one happens to subscribe to the theory that the rapacious capitalist swine ought to choke on the petard they've sown with overpriced music and restrictive rights-management software, you can see how the schools might worry. After all, who is more likely to be sued by those piggish mercenaries: a nineteen-year-old kid with an iPod and two weeks of dirty laundry to his name, or an ivy-covered megaversity?

Meanwhile, distribution channels wrestle with various business models which allow varying degrees of access and portability. Last week, Reuters reported that Yahoo's music service would extend their original introductory subscription rate of $4.99 per month (with a year up front; $6.99 monthly) for unlimited access to more than a million songs and the ability to transfer to portable devices as well as sharing via Yahoo Messenger, their popular instant messaging software.

Is it time for the content industries to rethink their business models? Is there a way for music companies to ensure fair recompense without pitting themselves against their own customers? Is sponsorship-- advertising-- the solution? How would students feel if they could listen all they want, anywhere they want, but the first five seconds of every cut on their mp3 player hawked skateboards and textbooks? What about beer? Cigarettes? If the institutions are providing Internet access to their students, are they responsible for the behaviors of those students on the network? Are the schools responsible for third-party content accessed by students via the network? To whom are the access providers responsible?

Technology has changed the way we use content. We look at media assets differently than ever before; we acquire, manage, and use content in ways that confound traditional accountanting models. Academe has for generations maintained an arm's length of ivy between itself and the filthy lucre of the common world, but technology, as it is wont to do, erased the space between orbits. Worlds now collide, and the future belongs to the visionaries who will construct a new one from the debris.

Cool, huh?

How will it shake out? Comment this blog, and let's see where the conversation leads.

For great news, views, and resources for educators, check out The Balance Sheet at
http://balancesheet.swlearning.com Published by South-Western, a Thomson company.

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