RIAA, MPAA Get On Colleges' Cases Over Student File Sharing

More than 2,300 institutions receive letter detailing downfalls of downloading.

If your dormroom is download central, the movie and music industries are asking your school to pull the plug on you.

The Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and other copyright-owners' groups sent a letter Tuesday (October 8) to more than 2,300 colleges and universities to inform them of the legal issues surrounding on-campus file-sharing. The letter also asks for the colleges' help in their fight against file-sharing and offers ways to stop it.

The letter outlines four policies the copyright holders want schools to adopt. The first is to inform students of their moral and legal responsibilities to respect the rights of copyright owners. Secondly, they ask that schools make clear what practices are and are not acceptable on their digital networks. The letter also requests that schools monitor compliance to the groups' intentions and penalize offenders.

" 'Theft' is a harsh word," reads the letter, "but that it is, pure and simple. As Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Malcolm recently stated, 'Stealing is stealing is stealing, whether it's done with sleight of hand by sticking something in a pocket or it's done with the click of a mouse.' It is no different from walking into the campus bookstore and in a clandestine manner walking out with a textbook without paying for it."

Besides the legal issues, the letter also addresses moral issues.

"Why is this issue important to higher education institutions?" asks Sheldon E. Steinbach, General Counsel of the American Council on Education, in the letter. "First, educational institutions are in the business of forming students' minds. A fundamental part of this formation is teaching about ethics, personal responsibility, and respect for the rule of law. Colleges and universities should not be in the business of condoning or promoting unlawful activities."

A point is also made to show how some security and privacy issues are at stake, and how students' use of file-sharing applications such as Morpheus and Kazaa cause unnecessary traffic on the school's network, citing statistics that one university found P2P uploading accounted for 75 percent of its entire bandwidth.

Finally, the letter lists four companies that offer bandwidth management tools that completely block or restrict file sharing.

The creative content industries that signed the letter also included the National Music Publishers' Association and the Songwriters Guild of America.

Coinciding with the creative content industries' letter was one mailed simultaneously but separately from six higher-education associations that collectively represent nearly all colleges and universities in the U.S. This letter basically reinforced the severity of the issue and urged discussion among school policy makers.