Live and let download

The following is an imagined dialogue between Cary H. Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and Jared L. Cohon, who represents Carnegie Mellon at large and the administrations of universities across the country.

AT RISE: Cary H. Sherman sits at the head of a long table in an underground lair. Tied to a chair next to him is a tuxedoed Jared Cohon.

SHERMAN: Do you know why I’ve brought you here?

COHON: Yes — you want me to be one of your henchmen.

SHERMAN: “Henchmen” is such a dastardly term, Dr. Cohon. I want us to work together. Do you comprehend the injustice that transpires on your campus, on your watch, every day, Dr. Cohon? Thanks to your mighty Internet capabilities, students are listening to their favorite Gnarls Barkley re-mixes and watching The Chronicles of Riddick for free!

COHON: It’s not my job to police the Internet, Sherman! I make sure the robots get built, the books get written, and the endowment gets bigger. Recently, you testified before Congress that you want to require university officials to periodically report to the government on their efforts to curtail Internet piracy. You want Congress to deny funding to universities that don’t comply. The academic world isn’t going to bend over backwards for you, Sherman. Do your job yourself!

SHERMAN: I tried! Suing college students around the country has made me terribly unpopular. I need you, and others like you, to do the dirty work for me. It wouldn’t be hard. Block illegal file sharing on your peer-to-peer networks. Then buy bulk subscriptions to Napster and give them away to all students so they can listen to their precious music.

COHON: It’s not that simple. How are we supposed to distinguish between “desirable” and “undesirable” file sharing on our peer-to-peer networks? There are programs available that claim to be able to detect and block illegal file sharing, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation has called them expensive and ineffective, made “simply to appease the public relations needs of the RIAA.” It would probably take the computer wizards at Carnegie Mellon a whole 15 minutes to hack their way around such programs. Also, it could impede legitimate applications and hinder our scholarship. And Napster? Don’t make me laugh. The new Napster is useless. A giant music library, sure, but you can’t put it on a CD or iPod. Our students will never stand for that! Prospective students won’t want to attend a university that exerts Big-Brother-like control over their Internet usage.

SHERMAN: How can you sit by and do nothing while artists like Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani lose pennies a day to illegal file sharing? Pennies a day!

COHON: We are not doing nothing. Our director of information security responds promptly to copyright infringement notices, and the university complies with subpoenas. We’re doing everything required by the law, and then some. What more do you want from us? Want us to walk your dog for you, too?

SHERMAN: One more word out of you and I’ll flood this lair with enough decibels of Ashlee Simpson to liquefy your brain!

COHON: Do it! You can stop me, Sherman, but you can’t stop the music!