February 22, 2019

Archives for June 2004

Minimum Age for Pro Basketball?

Yesterday was the NBA draft. In the first round, eight high school seniors were taken, and only five college seniors. (The rest were overseas players and college underclassmen.) The very first pick was a high school senior, chosen over a very accomplished college player.

You have to be 16 to drive. You have to be 21 at drink alcohol (at least where I live). Should there be a minimum age for playing professional basketball? NBA commissioner David Stern favors a minimum age of 20 for NBA players. The NFL’s rule, banning players less than three years out of high school, withstood a court challenge from Maurice Clarett, who wanted to go pro after two years of college.

Nobody can argue, after seeing Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James, that college is a prerequisite for NBA stardom. Sure, some high-school draftees wash out, but they may well have failed just as badly had they spent four years playing college ball.

Stern, and other proponents of the minimum age rule, argue that going to college is good for these kids. That’s probably true, if they become real students. But it’s hard to see the point in making them pretend to be students, which is what many of them would do were it not for the straight-to-the-pros path. It’s especially hard to see the point of making them mark time as pseudo-students until they pass some arbitrary age threshold, at which point they can drop their pseudo-education like a red-hot brick and jump to the pros.

Another, considerably more cynical, argument for an age limit is that forcing kids to play college sports is a clever way to subsidize university education. If college basketball is just minor-league pro ball with unpaid players, then it can serve as a profit center for universities, generating revenue to support other students who are actually being educated.

But all of this ignores the biggest losers in the trend towards professionalization of college sports: the true student-athletes. These are the players who don’t spend all day in the weight room, who study things other than game films. It’s very hard for them to compete against full-time athletes, and so they face intense pressure to slack on their studies.

It seems to me that professional football and basketball could learn a thing or two from baseball. The normal path in baseball has been for players to turn pro immediately after high school, with only a few players

RIAA Blowing Smoke About INDUCE Act

Today’s New York Times runs a brief story by Matt Richtel and Tom Zeller, Jr. on the growing criticism of Sen. Hatch’s INDUCE Act (now given a less bizarre name, and a new acronym, IICA).

Sellers of clearly legitimate products, such as those in telecom and electronics industries, argue that the bill is too broad.

The RIAA shoots back with this:

But Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, a recording industry lobbying group, said the legislation was meant to be narrowly tailored to address companies that build technology focused on illegal file sharing.

The RIAA is just wrong here. There is nothing in the bill that limits it to companies. There is nothing that limits it to technology. There is nothing that limits it to file sharing. Any of those limits could have been written into the bill – but they weren’t. The language of the bill is deliberately broad, and it appears to be deliberately vague as well.

Advocates of the Act have said little if anything to justify its breadth. This will be a key issue in the debate over the bill, if any serious debate is allowed to occur.

The Future of Filesharing

Today there’s a Senate hearing on “The Future of P2P”. On Saturday, I gave a talk with a remarkably similar title, “The Future of Filesharing,” at the ResNet 2004 conference, a gathering of about 400 people involved in running networks for residential colleges and universities. Here’s a capsule summary of my talk.

(Before starting, a caveat. Filesharing technologies have many legitimate, non-infringing uses. When I say “filesharing” below, I’m using that term as a shorthand to refer to infringing uses of filesharing systems. Rather than clutter up the text below with lots of caveats about legitimate noninfringing uses, let’s just put aside the noninfringing uses for now. Okay?)

From a technology standpoint, the future of filesharing will involve co-evolution between filesharing technology on one side, and anti-copying and anti-filesharing technology on the other. By “co-evolution” I mean that whenever one side finds a successful tactic, the other side will evolve to address that tactic, so that each side catalyzes the evolution of the other side’s technology.

The resulting arms race favors the filesharing side, for two reasons. First, the filesharing side can probably adapt faster than the anti-filesharing side; and speed is important in this kind of move-countermove game. Second, the defensive technologies that filesharing systems are likely to adapt are the same defensive technologies used in ordinary commercial distributed systems (end-to-end encryption, anti-denial of service tactics, reputation systems, etc.), so the filesharing side can benefit from the enormous existing R&D efforts on defensive technologies.

Given all of this, it’s a mistake for universities or ISPs to spends lots of money and effort trying to develop or deploy the One True Solution Technology (OTSS). Co-evolution ensures that the OTSS would sow the seeds of its own destruction, by motivating filesharing designers and users to change their systems and behavior to defeat it. At best, the OTSS would buy a little time – but not much time, given the quick reaction time of the other side. Rather than an OTSS, a series of quick-and-dirty measures might have some effect, and at least would waste fewer resources fighting a losing battle.

The best role for a university in the copyright wars is to do what a university does best: educate students. When I talk about education, I don’t mean a five-minute lecture at freshman initiation. I don’t mean adding three paragraphs on copyright to that rulebook that nobody reads. I don’t mean scare tactics. What I do mean is a real, substantive discussion of the copyright system.

My experience is that students are eager to have serious, intellectual discussions about why we have the copyright system we have. They will take seriously the economic justification for copyright, if it is explained to them in a non-hysterical way. They’ll appreciate the wisdom of the limitations on copyright, such as fair use and the idea/expression dichotomy; and in so doing they’ll realize why there are not exceptions for other things.

This kind of education is expensive; but all good education is. Surely, amid all of the hectoring “education” campaigns, there is room for some serious education too.