'Online Piracy 101' Required For Freshman At Some Schools

Increasingly, colleges are making basic copyright law part of the curriculum.

Along with informing freshman of the rules and regulations of dorm life — no hotplates or alcohol — many colleges are schooling new students on illegal file-sharing.

Orientation programs, especially in schools that offer high-speed Internet connections in their residence halls, have added copyright education to their agendas. Before students of the University of California, Berkeley, receive their university accounts, for instance, they must sit through such a lesson. The message it imparts echoes that of the Recording Industry Association of America: Copyright-infringing file-sharing is illegal, and the students who engage in such piracy are not anonymous and risk prosecution.

Berkeley also set a 5 GB limit on uploading and downloading, which school officials feel should be sufficient for the transfer of any copyright-free material students may need. Surpass that limit twice, and students may lose their Internet license.

At other schools, copyright-education brochures are being inserted in orientation packages alongside the ones offering peer counseling and free condoms. Some schools are placing ads in student newspapers, and pages on school Web sites are being devoted to the task of informing students that downloading music and movies is just plain wrong.

That message is drilled into all students who attempt to log on to Chicago's Loyola University's intranet system. Before access is permitted, they must agree to the school's file-sharing policies. Earlier this summer, the school surrendered to the RIAA the names of two summer-school students the industry suspects to be pirates.

Incoming students at Texas Tech University were greeted with an e-mail that explained the RIAA's efforts to crack down on file-sharing. But because "just say no" only goes so far, some schools, like American University, offer a suggestion to those who continue the practice: If you're going to use peer-to-peer services, adjust the settings so you can only download, not upload, which decreases the chances of being nabbed by the RIAA.

These new measures are in addition to a redistribution of the memos some schools issued in April as a reaction to letters received from the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America. The letters informed the schools of the myriad problems that come with illegal file-sharing (see "RIAA, MPAA Get On Colleges' Cases Over Student file-sharing").

So far this year, the University of Arizona has received 310 letters from the RIAA telling the school that illegal file-sharing was being committed on its servers. Upon receipt of such letters, the university issues a written warning instructing the student to delete all of the illegally obtained files. Should the problem persist, the student may face eviction from residence halls and loss of network privileges.

Although it got letters, the university was not among the institutions receiving one of roughly 1,000 subpoenas the recording industry sent to schools ordering them to surrender the identities of offenders (see "RIAA Goes After File Traders With Hundreds Of Subpoenas").

Earlier this week, the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities — a partnership of education leaders and music and motion-picture executives formed last fall to address the problem of illegal file-sharing on campus — released a report of their findings and progress over the past year.

"Within a short amount of time, there's been a sea change in the awareness of piracy's impact and the appreciation of the need to do something about it," said Cary Sherman, RIAA president and co-chair of the committee.

"A year ago, you could have counted on one hand the number of presidents aware of or who cared about [illegal downloading]," Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University and co-chair of the committee, said in a telephone press conference Tuesday. "Now there is hardly one who is not interested."

The committee has also begun to look into legitimate file-sharing services with which schools may strike individual licensing deals, and it is also researching technologies that can filter out copyrighted files being transferred across a server. Additionally, it plans to compile a "best practices document," which will outline the measures some schools have taken to educate students on file-sharing policies and punish offenders.

At the University of Minnesota, first-time offenders must attend a sort of "copyright school" to learn about copyright law. Chalk up a second strike, and students may be temporarily suspended from using the school's network.

Such measures may be too little, too late for some. The RIAA, which earlier this week claimed that annual album sales continue to slump, down 7 percent in the first six months of 2003 compared with last year, is expected to begin filing lawsuits Friday against computer users whose names were obtained through the recent flurry of subpoenas.

There is hope on the horizon for poor college students who just want to get their music on, however. In the spring, 12 to 24 colleges, including Penn State, will test services that offer students unlimited commercial downloads. Payment for the service will come out of residence-hall fees.

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.