Thursday, November 15, 2012

University Throttles Information

A grand lede for a silly story. It's connected to the previous post in that both illustrate this principle: Technology makes lots of things possible. The fact that things are possible and legal doesn't make them good ideas. Sometimes we need to take a step back and exercise some judgment based on principles to which technology itself does not speak.

OK, with that out of the way, here is the story: UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON LIMITS REPORTERS' LIVE TWEETS DURING GAMES. Huh?

Well, you know the riff about "pictures, descriptions, and accounts of this game" that at least used to precede broadcasts of Major League Baseball games? Here is some current text explaining the limits of your rights to talk about a Yankees game if you buy a ticket and go to the ball park:
BY USING THE TICKET, THE BEARER AGREES THAT: (a) HE/SHE SHALL NOT TRANSMIT OR AID IN TRANSMITTING ANY INFORMATION ABOUT THE GAME OR OTHER EVENT TO WHICH THE TICKET GRANTS ADMISSION, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ANY ACCOUNT, DESCRIPTION, PICTURE, VIDEO, AUDIO, REPRODUCTION OR OTHER INFORMATION CONCERNING THE GAME OR OTHER EVENT (COLLECTIVELY, “GAME INFORMATION”); (b) THE YANKEES, THE COMMISSIONER OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL OR THE OTHER EVENT PROMOTER IS THE EXCLUSIVE OWNER OF ALL INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, COPYRIGHTS AND OTHER PROPRIETARY RIGHTS IN THE GAME, THE OTHER EVENT AND GAME INFORMATION; …
So there! It seems you are not allowed to come back from the game and tell your kids what happened. "Go read a report authorized by the Yankees," you are apparently supposed to say.

 Intellectual property!

This is silly of course. It is one of those absurdly overbroad and unenforced contracts that we all accept without thinking about it. In Fenway Park anyway, where similar license terms apply, nobody will stop you from taking a photo of the field (unless you are blocking somebody's view).

Incredibly, the University of Washington has decided that tweets by reporters are threatening an important revenue stream, the licensed transmission of live accounts of games. So they have implemented this policy:
Credential Holders (including television, Internet, new media, and print publications) are not permitted to promote or produce in any form a “real-time” description of the event.  Real-time is defined by the NCAA as a continuous play-by-play account or live, extended live/real-time statistics, or detailed description of an event.  Live-video/digital images or live audio are not permitted.  Each of the aforementioned descriptions is exclusive to the official athletic website of the host institution (GoHuskies.com), the official athletic website of the visiting institution, and any designee of the UW department of athletics.  Periodic updates of scores, statistics or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the event are acceptable, as long as they do not exceed the recommended frequency (20 total in-game updates for basketball, 45 total in-game updates for football).  Credential Holder agrees that the determination of whether an outlet is posting a real-time description shall be in UW’s sole discretion.  If UW deems that a Credential Holder is producing a real-time description of the contest, UW reserves all actions against Credential Holder, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.
So the good news is that this does not apply to fans--only to journalists, including "new media" journalists. On the other hand, it doesn't apply to UW press folks either. God forbid someone should follow the Twitter stream of the struggling local newspaper reporter rather than the institutional press office. After all, a university needs to be run like a business, and NBA teams have implemented similar policies. Gotta keep up with the times.

But a university is more than a business. Universities are instruments of human enlightenment. They should not be teaching their students that every bit of information has its price, to be extracted by the legal owner. Of course the UW policy acknowledges that college football is just a branch of the entertainment business. But along with the pretext that the players are students comes the message that real students, and professors, should not give away for free information for which they can demand a price. That message is contrary to the spirit of learning, and a university that sends it should be ashamed of itself.

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