Ruckus is billed as “free music for college students: Unlimited access to over 2 million tracks and growing.” In the varied efforts to stop illegal file sharing on college campuses by students, Ruckus’ approach is interesting: Get universities to partner with a commercial online music service and then encourage their students to channel their music-downloading desires into Ruckus. According to the March 26, 2007 article “Ruckus aids against illegal downloading: Music service keeps Ball State students out of legal trouble”

Ruckus’ network has grown exponentially during the past year, meaning more universities and more users are signing up and logging on, he [Ed Cheely, director of campus sales for the Ruckus Network] said. “We partnered with 20 universities a year ago, now we’re over 100,” he said, “Once one or two schools have been successful, other schools want it too.”

It is good to hear about different ways leaders are addressing piracy issues besides RIAA sponsored lawsuits, but unfortunate that “Ruckus is not compatible with iPods or Macintosh.” Have the folks at Ruckus heard of W3C standards? Perhaps someone should brief them on the benefits of “interoperable technologies” and the financial payoffs of compatibility with the world’s most popular portable music player?

Back on February 6, 2007, I was surprised to read some new thoughts from Steve Jobs about DRM in the Apple website post, “Thoughts on Music.” After reviewing the landmark achievement which Apple pioneered with FairPlay in getting the major music labels to start selling their music online, he reviewed three alternative “paths forward” when it comes to online music. The first is essentially to maintain the status quo:

The first alternative is to continue on the current course, with each manufacturer competing freely with their own “top to bottom” proprietary systems for selling, playing and protecting music. It is a very competitive market, with major global companies making large investments to develop new music players and online music stores. Apple, Microsoft and Sony all compete with proprietary systems. Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry, and customers are being well served with a continuing stream of innovative products and a wide variety of choices.

The status quo when it comes to DRM is hopefully NOT where we will remain in the years ahead. As an effort to get college students to download music via a specific, commercial service, Ruckus seems to fall into this option 1 / status quo with DRM. I was surprised to read Steve Jobs endorse a future-vision of online music sales that is DRM free in this announcement as option #3, however. The case he makes seems very straightforward:

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

Like many other issues (including cyberbullying, Internet safety, and safe digital social networking) I think the best short-term as well as long-term solutions rely heavily on EDUCATION and CONVERSATIONS more than technology. Just as technology cannot guarantee anyone’s safety online, no single DRM technology can prevent circumvention of copyright laws and guarantee compliance with those laws. Getting lots of college students into a music sharing website like Ruckus won’t accomplish that goal either, or the more important goal of EDUCATING a diverse array of people about intellectual property rights issues and the evolution of copyright laws.

Jamey Osborne’s TCEA 2007 presentation “Creative Commons: Escape the hassles of copyright infringement” offered an even better alternative to DRM and web services like Ruckus for addressing intellectual property issues when it comes to music shared online. Just as “web feeds” and “feed readers” like Google Reader and Bloglines are not yet “mainstream vocabulary” for most teachers in K-12 as well as higher education contexts, “Creative Commons” seems to also remain outside the “normal” educator lexicon. This needs to change, and the most powerful tool for changing those realities is CONVERSATION.

I was quite enthused by several conversations I had at the SITE conference last week regarding an emerging effort to change national teacher certification requirements and potentially require candidates to create an online “educational content” video which would be added to education-specific online video repositories like NextVista or TeacherTube. I hope these efforts can include more conversations and awareness about Creative Commons media licensing.

It’s a brave new world out there, and the opportunities for collaboration, communication, learning and commerce are unprecedented. I remain very optimistic about the potential for us to use these tools for constructive ends, inside as well as outside of schools.

Thanks to Karen Montgomery for the initial heads-up about Ruckus.

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