Colleges and universities across the country are taking new steps to fight rampant Internet music piracy by beefing up their education efforts, offering legal music downloading options and stiffening penalties for illegal file sharing, according to a report released today.
The report, which was prepared by a coalition of higher education institutions and the recording industry, said that schools are adopting new policies as well as technological and educational measures to ensure that students have access to online music without resorting to illegal downloads.
"We're delighted to see the kind of experimentation going on in the university community," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in a conference call today with reporters.
Last September, the RIAA filed its first round of lawsuits against people suspected of illegally swapping songs online. Since then entertainment companies have sued almost 4,000 people. The RIAA has reached settlements with more than 800 suspected pirates, with the average settlement coming out to approximately $3,000.
In the meantime, schools like the Pennsylvania State University and George Washington University struck deals with the now-legal online music service Napster to provide their students with licensed music downloads. Students pay for the service as part of their university technology fee.
Penn State students have swarmed to the service, downloading as many as 100,000 songs a day in the pilot program, which was launched last spring, said university President Graham Spanier. He said that illegal file-sharing activity diminished over the same time period.
Sherman said that this is evidence that legal services "introduce students to the concept that music has value and that the people who make it have the [right] to get paid."
Universities have plenty of motivation to end illegal downloading on their networks, said Mark Luker, vice president at Educause, a nonprofit group that helps college administrators develop technology policies. File sharing, he said, can cost universities a lot of money in the form of lost resources. "If left completely unchecked, illegal file sharing can completely dominate the traffic on your campus network. Virtually every campus is interested in allocating their resources to their educational mission."
Luker added that schools could be held liable for failing to stop music piracy from taking place on their networks.
Napster has made the university deals a top priority, inking nine such arrangements since the start of the last school year. "We're trying to help change behavior, because we tend to find when people use the service they really love it," said Aileen Atkins, Napster's senior vice president for business affairs. "Those are people who hopefully will continue to be Napster subscribers after they graduate. You're getting a group of users all in one place."
Several record companies have climbed aboard by giving Napster deep discounts that it can pass on to the colleges, Atkins said.
Other companies, including RealNetworks and Cdigix, have also targeted the college market, offering their own discounted subscription services.
Colleges have also stepped up their education and enforcement efforts, according to the report. Many schools now use orientation sessions to admonish incoming freshmen against illegal downloads. Others require students to read and sign "acceptable use" policies banning the practice before they can get online.
University of Maryland officials subject incoming students to a skit about the dangers of illegal downloading, said Amy Ginther, spokeswoman for the university's information technology office.
Schools have also beefed up penalties, the report said. Many schools now employ a tiered punishment system, issuing warnings and occasionally temporarily cutting off access when a student is first found to be illegally sharing music, then steadily increasing penalties for further infractions. Third offenses might result in loss of computer privileges or even expulsion.
And just as some schools are using technology to provide students with legal alternatives, others are using it to limit illicit traffic and in one case, actually ferret out file-sharing activity. In June 2003, the University of Florida introduced its Icarus software, which officials say detects acceptable-use violations. Other schools use technology to limit the bandwidth any student can monopolize, and to track usage spikes that may point to file sharing.
The report was submitted to the House Judiciary Committee's intellectual property subcommittee. Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is reviewing the report, said spokesman Chris Chichester.