December 17, 2018

LAMP and Regulatory Arbitrage

Today, MIT’s LAMP system goes back on line, with a new design. LAMP (“Library Access to Music Project”) streams music to the MIT campus via the campus cable TV system. Any student can connect to LAMP’s website and choose a sequence of songs. The chosen songs are then scheduled for playing on one of sixteen campus TV channels.

According to MIT, transmission of music via LAMP is legal because it is covered by music licenses that MIT has purchased in connection with the campus radio station. In other words, LAMP is just like another set of sixteen campus radio stations that happen to be controllable by MIT students across the Web. I don’t know whether this legal argument is correct, but it sounds plausible and MIT appears to stand behind it.

You may recall that LAMP launched last year but was shut down a few days later when copyright owners argued that LoudEye, which had sold MIT digital files to use in that incarnation of LAMP, did not have the legal right to sell those files for such uses.

Now LAMP is back, with the original design’s efficient digital back end replaced by a new setup in which an array of low-end CD jukeboxes are controlled by special computers. This allows LAMP to get its music from ordinary CDs, as many radio stations do.

From an engineering standpoint, the new design of LAMP is overly complex, fragile, and inefficient. That’s not surprising, because lawyers must have had a big impact on the design.

LAMP is a great example of regulatory arbitrage – the adoption of otherwise-inefficient behavior in order to shift from one legal or regulatory regime to another. There’s one set of copyright rules for radio stations and another set for webcasters. LAMP transmits music over the cable-TV system, rather than the more efficient Internet system, in order to stay on the radio-station side of the line. There’s one set of rules for direct access to digital music on CDs and another set of rules for copies stored on hard disks. LAMP uses CDs in jukeboxes, rather than more efficient hard-disk storage, in order to stay on the CD side of that legal line.

We’re going to see more and more of this kind of regulatory arbitrage by engineers. Copyright law is getting more complicated and is accumulating more technology-specific rules, so there are more and more legal lines across which designers will want to step. At the same time, technology is becoming more powerful and more flexible, giving designers an ever wider menu of design options. The logical outcome is a twisting of technology design to satisfy predetermined legal categories rather than engineering efficiency.

Comments

  1. Jeff Keltner says:

    There is a real issue here surrounding the complete lack of understanding of technology in Washington and how the policy decision made their effect technology. This is a perfect example of how our intellectual property regime makes absolutely no sense when viewed through the lens of current technology. It is easy for Senators and Congressmen to beat the dream about illegal piracy of content and paying authors for their works, but they often miss the point that these regulations do much more than they were originally intended. I am sure that very few people when passing the DMCA thought that it would be used to silence the research of a Princeton professor or to arrest a Russian programmer presenting a paper at a conference.
    In order to address this issue, the community of people who are concerned about these issues need to take action to inform our policy-makers about the real nature of these issues, and to start working to elect lawmakers who understand the issues at stake here and are willing to work to begin to create a more sensible intellectual property regime that will foster innovation and research as well as allowing creators to benefit from their creations.
    If you have an interest in these issues, I would suggest you check out IPac at http://www.ipaction.org. IPac is a nonpartisan group dedicated to preserving individual freedom through balanced intellectual property policy. By organizing politically to make sure our voices are heard, we can help ensure a future where technology develops in sensible ways and is not mangled because of poor regulations designed by lawmakers who don’t understand the issues.

  2. A real example of how overbearing copyright law suppresses innovation

    Freedom to Tinker writes about MITs recently relaunched LAMP (Library Access to Music Project). The project streams music to MIT students on campus through the campus cable TV system. Students can connect to the LAMP website and choose a sequence of so…

  3. LAMP and Regulatory Arbitrage

    Today, MIT’s LAMP system goes back on line, with a new design. LAMP (“Library Access to Music Project”) streams music to the MIT campus via the campus cable TV system. Any student can connect to LAMP’s website and choose a sequence of songs. The chosen…