Colleges, RIAA Pleased With Progress In War On File-Sharing

Joint committee report finds legitimate downloads proliferating on campus.

As the fall semester looms near, colleges and universities are ramping up the programs and penalties to prevent illegal file-sharing on campus, and it shows on their report card.

On Tuesday (August 24) the Joint Committee of Higher Education and Entertainment Communities issued a report to Congress outlining the initiatives schools have taken in the areas of education on copyright infringement; technological solutions to the problem; and future collaborations between the recording industry, legitimate download services and college administrations.

The report focused mainly on new deals that have been struck between colleges and legal download services such as Napster. Since Pennsylvania State University began offering Napster 2.0 to a select number of students last spring (see "Penn State Students To Get Free Napster Next Semester"), 19 other schools have adopted similar programs.

The University of Southern California, the University of Miami, George Washington University, Cornell University, Middlebury College, Vanderbilt and Wright University have signed on with Napster. DePauw University students can purchase discounted downloads from Music Rebellion. Ruckus offers music and movies to students at Northern Illinois University, while the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota have partnered with RealNetworks.

Schools pay for the students' subscriptions through fees included in tuition. For example, Penn State uses its Information and Technology Fund to pay Napster, and even though the program will be expanded this semester, Penn State President Graham Spanier said during a press conference Tuesday that fees won't be going up.

"Focus group meetings and early research on campus led to students telling us that music was very important to them, so we did not have to raise the fees," said Spanier, who along with RIAA President Cary Sherman co-chairs the Joint Committee of Higher Education and Entertainment Communities. "When we initially announced it, there were some students who weren't very supportive of it, who'd rather not see any university funding used for this purpose, but those complaints have pretty much vanished. Now what we have is students embracing the service, using it, and actually asking for additional enhancements."

Movies, which are increasingly popular on peer-to-peer services, are one of the next frontiers the schools are expected to explore. The college-only service Cflix had already been offering its on-demand video services to Yale, Duke, Wake Forest and the University of Colorado, and having partnered with its Ctrax music service to form Cdigix, the multimedia streaming service will partner with more schools, including Marietta College and the Rochester Institute of Technology, in the 2004-05 academic year (see "New Service Offers College Downloaders A Student Discount").

Students also want the ability to download music to portable devices, and later in the semester Napster will partner with Microsoft for an extra service for an additional charge that allows students to do that.

Apple Computer has also offered to license its iTunes Music Store to a number of schools, following up on its program that provided iPods to Duke University students.

And similar to Duke's use of the iPod as an educational tool to share notes and class documents, Penn State students will be able to use files downloaded from Napster in lieu of going to library labs for their music and pop culture courses.

Although 20 schools is a tiny percentage of those nationwide, the education and entertainment committee is confident the trend will continue to spread.

"A lot of universities have adopted a wait-and-see attitude," Spanier explained. "Penn State was the first, and a lot of other universities wanted to see what happened. And as they saw the student body embrace the Napster experience, they became more interested in going down that road as well. I think there's going to be a peer-to-peer influence among universities, where more and more schools will be getting into this marketplace."

Educating the student body on the legal ramifications of copyright infringement continues to be a top priority (see "

'Online Piracy 101' Required For Freshman At Some Schools"), the report stated. E-mails, letters and fliers have been issued to students, ensuring that they understand the laws, while dozens of schools — Indiana University, Brown University and Dartmouth College, among them — have updated their acceptable-use policies to reflect stricter school rules.

Enforcement of those rules will be a priority, with some schools threatening expulsion for multiple offenders. Although Spanier and Sherman couldn't say whether illegal downloading on campus has decreased in the past year, they believe the RIAA lawsuits against

158 people at 35 schools earlier this year had a deterring effect on those schools' use of P2P networks.

"There's nothing like hearing that someone you know has been caught, to basically make you aware that the risk is real and not hypothetical," Spanier said.

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