Monday, January 14, 2008

The NCAA and New Media rights

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting (login required) that at the recent NCAA convention, a company was marketing software designed to allow coaches and other athletic personnel to monitor athletes’ behavior on social networking sites. The software, called YouDiligence, will allow

real-time searches of Facebook and MySpace for up to 500 objectionable words and phrases ranging from profanity to slang used to describe drugs. If it finds anything, it sends an e-mail alert to a designated athletics official containing a link to the offending page.

Apparently, some people find this blanket monitoring of student-athletes’ speech worrisome:

Though three experts in constitutional law told The Chronicle that the new software was most likely lawful, all three agreed that it raises some tricky legal and ethical questions for which there are no clear answers, and that athletics departments should think carefully about using it.

“This kind of proactive examination of college students’ expression and associations and beliefs really gets you into very, very dangerous territory,” said Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group based in San Francisco. Before using such a product, he said, athletics officials should consult university lawyers on whether it might violate students’ constitutional rights.

(This, of course, begs the question: Since when does the NCAA care about student-athletes’ rights?)

While this software doesn’t seem to be explicitly endorsed by the NCAA, the announcement comes close on the heels of the organization’s ban on live-blogging of their sporting events. The ban is tenuously based on copyright claims, but whether or not those arguments have merit is an open question.

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