To combat piracy, UCLA reaches for the Clicker


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One of the lessons I’ve learned from talking to college students is that file-sharing is a habit, not a religion. When presented with a better alternative, students will often embrace it -- even if it’s (gasp!) completely legal. Provided that it’s free, of course. The trick is to make sure the alternative fits as well into their daily routine as the sources they’re using today, whether they be file-sharing networks or bootleg streaming sites.

UCLA has apparently come to the same conclusion. On Tuesday, the university is unveiling a new feature for its My UCLA portal: a customized version of Clicker’s program guide for online video. The guide will help students find or browse through countless hours of TV episodes, featurettes and movies that the studios and networks have made available on the Net. It will also indicate when something is not available legitimately, which will help students define the boundary between right and wrong -- or maybe just tell them when they have to look elsewhere for a title.


Jonathan Curtiss, manager of technology development for UCLA student and campus life, said the My UCLA portal is ‘likely to be one of the most visited campus sites.’ Students go there to order books, search for classes, seek financial aid, network with other students, check the day’s events on campus, look up the menu at their dining hall.... The list goes on and on. Putting Clicker on the home page of the portal ‘provides them with a kind of in-your-face opportunity’ to see professional quality, legal online video, Curtiss said.

Clicker doesn’t host any video on its own site, but rather indexes hundreds of thousands of videos stored on such sites as Hulu and YouTube. It suffers from the same limitations that the studios and networks impose on their online partners; for example, it may link to only the last few episodes of a series currently on the air. But users can count on accurate, working links and high-quality streams, which makes Clicker significantly more reliable and easier to use than your garden variety BitTorrent site.

To integrate Clicker more quickly into students’ routines, the university will add many of the videos produced on campus to Clicker’s index. These will include recordings of lectures, faculty interviews, sports press conferences and promotional clips. The school already has a channel on YouTube and two collections of videos at the Office of Instructional Development’s website, but Clicker could conceivably become a gateway to much of that material. One type of video that Clicker won’t handle, at least not initially, is content submitted by students. That’s because the university is concerned about respecting copyrights and ‘fairly representing the campus,’ Curtiss said, adding, ‘How do we vet the content students give us? We don’t have a mechanism to do that.’

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times’ Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey