November 23, 2007

Beware Software Gifts from the MPAA

Greetings. I'm on record as supporting reasonable efforts by the MPAA, RIAA, and their various cohorts to protect their intellectual property assets. However, a software tool being distributed to universities by the MPAA, supposedly to help the schools internally track student file sharing (and remember, there are efforts to make such tracking a requirement of federal law) appears to leak information like a sieve, not just to the MPAA but to the entire Internet.

Part of the MPAA toolkit's data leakage is obviously intentional -- like the "phone home" aspect that reveals a new installation to MPAA servers. Other aspects, like the open Web server that the toolkit installs, which exposes collected data publicly, may simply be the result of design incompetence.

Either way, I agree with those observers who suggest that installing this free software mess would be a big mistake on the part of university system administrators.

The MPAA now says that the current release that they've been pushing to the educators is only the beta version. I'm all in favor of betas, even extended ones, but a cardinal rule of software development says that you don't allow beta software to be used in outside production environments unless it has at least been vetted for major security and privacy problems.

In this case, the problems with the MPAA software are so obvious that they call into question the veracity -- or at least the competence -- of the entire project.

When our policymakers consider the desires of the entertainment industry to turn university IT departments into intellectual property cops, I hope that this particular fiasco will be duly noted.


Posted by Lauren at November 23, 2007 09:03 AM | Permalink
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