By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2007
The recording industry is dusting off an old tactic in its never-ending effort to crack down on pirated music: Target the college kids.
So far this year, the music industry's trade group has sent out hundreds of complaints to students, pressured school administrators to take tougher anti-piracy measures and tried shaming colleges into doing better by putting out a list of the top offending schools.
Yesterday, the recording industry trade group took its complaints about illegal music downloading to the Hill, saying progress at U.S. campuses has been too slow.
"Music has never been more popular with fans than it is right now," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, in a hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, the Internet and intellectual property. Yet fewer people, particularly college students, are paying for it, he said.
More than half of college students acquire music illegally, said Sherman, citing studies conducted at the University of Richmond. According to the research firm NPD, students accounted for 1.3 billion illegal music downloads in 2006.
The trade group said it plans to go after colleges in a big way this year, including efforts to pressure school administrators to shut down computer network access to online services where pirated music is illegally traded.
The RIAA recently released a list of schools where it has tracked heavy file-trading traffic. Ohio and Purdue universities were the two schools at the top of the list. Howard University, which is in the District, was No. 8.
UCLA, by comparison, is regarded by the recording industry as a school that has effectively discouraged music piracy on campus. The school has suspended two students who repeatedly broke the school's policies against illegal downloading, a UCLA official testified yesterday.
At schools that don't institute or enforce such policies, some students might be getting mail from the trade group. Last week, the RIAA sent 400 letters to students at 13 colleges warning them that they will either have to pay up for illegally downloading music or face a lawsuit.
An official at Purdue was scheduled to testify yesterday before the committee but canceled.
The trade group has sent 572 complaints to Howard students this year, compared with 604 last year. The group says it plans to send out 400 similar letters every month to people around the country it suspects of illegally downloading songs.
In response to the complaints, Howard recently installed software designed to keep students from using file-sharing services, according to a report in the school's newspaper, the Hilltop. Instead of using file-trading services, the school suggested that students ask for gift certificates at online music stores such as Apple's iTunes.
A spokesman for the school was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Sherman told lawmakers that he thinks the lawsuits have been effective in discouraging illegal downloading. He said that fear of lawsuits has been the No. 1 or No. 2 reason cited by students who do not use file-trading networks to acquire music.
John Vaughn, executive vice president of the Association of American Universities, told the subcommittee that software-filtering tools designed to shut down music file-trading can be problematic. Some colleges use file-trading programs similar to those used for music for legitimate research purposes.
Sherman, of the RIAA, disputed that point. "Nobody's using [file-trading services] for Shakespeare's sonnets," he said.