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Entertainment Officials Say Colleges Do Too Little to Fight Online Piracy

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Oct. 13, 2006

Entertainment-industry officials, often using pointed language, argued at a Congressional hearing last month that most colleges have not taken sufficient steps to discourage students from downloading pirated music and movie files.

At the hearing, held by a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, the officials intensified their attempts to press colleges to offer campuswide subscriptions to legal downloading services and to install software that can block students from trading copyrighted material on peer-to-peer networks.

About 140 institutions have signed up with such legal services, and more than 60 now use the industry's preferred blocking tool. But many campus administrators - citing, among other factors, concerns about privacy and academic freedom - have been reluctant to restrict network traffic or to encourage students to use a particular online music service.

During several previous hearings, industry representatives had sought to portray colleges as partners in the fight against piracy. But last month the heads of the largest music and movie trade groups sharply criticized institutions that have chosen not to adopt antipiracy tactics endorsed by the industry.

"We have heard the reasons for inaction: academic freedom, privacy, 'we're not the music industry's police,'" said Cary H. Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. "I have no doubt that these are real concerns. But to me, at least, they've begun to sound like excuses."

Mr. Sherman said he was "grateful" to colleges and universities that have used legal downloading services and blocked illegal peer-to-peer transactions, but he argued that "there are a far greater number of schools who do not understand, or simply choose not to acknowledge, their responsibility to help solve the problem."

Daniel R. Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, seconded Mr. Sherman's criticism of institutions that have not used the entertainment industry's preferred antipiracy tactics. "Some schools have really stepped up to the plate, and some haven't," Mr. Glickman said.

He also asked that college officials be required to provide periodic updates to the panel that held the hearing, the education committee's Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, on their efforts to curtail campus piracy.

No Requirement
Mr. Sherman and Mr. Glickman stopped short of asking lawmakers to force colleges use legal services or block peer-to-peer transactions. But members of the subcommittee did raise the specter of federal legislation.

Rep. Dale E. Kildee of Michigan, the subcommittee's top Democrat, said Congress had considered an amendment that would have stripped federal funds from colleges that did not take antipiracy measures when it debated a bill this year to extend the Higher Education Act (HR 609). The amendment, he said, was ultimately rejected as "too drastic."

William W. Fisher, director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, agreed with that assessment during his testimony. Mr. Fisher said software that attempts to block illegitimate file sharing may limit perfectly legal, and academically useful, applications of peer-to-peer networks. "It's not as though they are sitting on their hands," he said of colleges that have shied away from filtering peer-to-peer transactions.

Two university administrators also testified. William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, discussed his new role as co-chairman of a committee of college officials and entertainment-industry executives that is examining ways to combat campus piracy. And Cheryl Elzy, dean of libraries at Illinois State University, described her institution's plan to create "a sort of Consumer Reports for downloading services."

Maryland and Illinois State are among a growing number of public universities that have decided to subscribe to legal downloading services. Most early adopters of the services were private, often rural colleges, whose students were more likely to rely on the Internet for entertainment.

But now several factors - including promotional offers from companies and pressure from lawmakers - have persuaded some public institutions to try out legal services. Indiana State and Old Dominion Universities and the Universities of Washington and Colorado at Boulder, for example, have all recently struck deals with Cdigix, another company that offers college downloads.

In the meantime, the recording-industry trade group has sent letters to about 700 American colleges, informing them that the industry would resume its practice of suing college students suspected of music piracy. The trade group will notify colleges when it intends to sue their students, but will let those students settle cases before actually filing the suits.

"In the next few weeks," the letters say, "we will announce a new university enforcement program that focuses substantially on students who ignore warnings and continue to engage in illegal downloading of music."

Section: Information Technology
Volume 53, Issue 8, Page A45

This article was posted on: October 9, 2006

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