Five years ago, the Recording Industry Association of America launched a massive drive against piracy. Commercial providers and students, who were the main culprits, were fined for downloading copyrighted works without permission. Even civil action was brought against university students.
According to an Associated Press (News - Alert) report, with the entertainment industry clamoring and campaigning to stamp out unauthorized distribution of copy music, movies and TV shows, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 has roped in schools to campaign alongside the industry.
Colleges and universities don't seem to have any other option but to the line and try to combat the illegal swapping of pirated movies, or music over their computer networks, without hampering education or research. The penalty for failing to put a halt to piracy is stiff, for it will see institutions lose federal funding, something that they can ill afford to do.
Peer-to-peer file sharing will no longer be possible on a few campuses, as college and university officials are adopting restrictive policies. Initially worried that they would be asked to monitor or block content, there is a provision that offers a great deal of flexibility, so long as they agree to use at least one 'technology-based deterrent.'
What this would entail is limiting the bandwidth consumed in peer-to-peer networking, monitoring traffic, using a commercial product to reduce or block illegal file sharing and respond to copyright infringement notices from copyright holders.
"Almost all campuses already manage bandwidth or vigorously process infringement, or 'takedown,' notices," Steven Worona, director of policy and networking programs for Educause, a higher education tech advocacy group, said.
However, Worona expressed doubt as to whether the investment of time and money would actually succeed in making a dent in digital piracy.
'If the university is going to prohibit underage drinking, I think it ought to prohibit anything on the Internet that's illegal, too,' Alicia Richardson (News - Alert), an Illinois State University junior, who applauded her school's restrictive policies on file-sharing.
Richardson also added that schools must educate their campus communities on the issue and offer legal alternatives to downloading 'to the extent practicable.
Although the recording industry has stopped suing illegal file-sharers, it still sends infringement notices to colleges, as every fall, a new cadre of students arrive on the campus, and begin the infringing activity all over again.
Since October 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America said it has sent 1.8 million infringement notices to commercial Internet service providers, and 269,609 to colleges and universities. Of course college officials said that these figures didn't really indicate the actual level of illegal activity.
RIAA president Cary Sherman said regardless of the fact of whether campus programs actually put a dent in piracy, or no, the threat of a gradually tougher response to repeat violations was working.
Sherman cited UCLA 's system that notified users by e-mail, whenever the school received an infringement notice, quarantining the computer's Internet access, and not allowing the student to participate in an educational workshop. Repeat offenders faced a one-semester suspension.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which also pressed for the legislation was impressed by the action on the part of college and school campuses, but the question of whether it would actually curb piracy still remained unanswered.
Campuses in Illinois allowed exceptions for students who used technology to tap open-source software, Linux, and for those who sought downloads, the school developed a Web page with links to download free movies and also free music streaming websites such as Hulu and Pandora (News - Alert).
Jack Bernard, a university lawyer who devised a software program, which Michigan offers free to other schools, saw the University of Michigan take a different approach, launching a campus initiative called 'BAYU,' which stands for 'Be Aware (News - Alert) You're Uploading.' The result was that whenever files were uploaded or shared, users of the university networks were automatically notified, regardless of whether the activity was legal or not. As a result, the number of copyright infringement notices the university received has slowed to a trickle.
'We think scare tactics and most technological means don't realize the ends we want because technological means never seem to keep up with people's ability to thwart them,' Bernard said.
Joe Fleischer, CMO for tracking firm BigChampagne Media Measurement, said that new technologies have made it more difficult to assess how much enforcement has affected piracy. He added that the battle now was much more complicated than five years ago, as file-hosting services and other new modes of infringement were emerging.
The silent battle between the entertainment industry and educational authorities continues, with neither emerging as a clear victor. Mini Swamy is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Juliana Kenny