• April 18, 2014

College 2.0: New Regulations on Campus Piracy Don't Mean New Antipiracy Actions

New Regulations on Campus Piracy Don't Mean New Antipiracy Actions 1

George Nikitin, AP Images

Cary Sherman is president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which argues that despite the national growth of broadband, college campuses still represent a particularly fertile breeding ground for pirates and so need rules of their own.

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close New Regulations on Campus Piracy Don't Mean New Antipiracy Actions 1

George Nikitin, AP Images

Cary Sherman is president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which argues that despite the national growth of broadband, college campuses still represent a particularly fertile breeding ground for pirates and so need rules of their own.

Students who are about to graduate often hand down the tricks of stealing music and movies to the next senior class, in a digital rite of passage. At the College of New Jersey, that means surreptitiously finding a new home each year for a computer holding an enormous directory of illegal files on the campus.

So says a senior at the college, who is moving that computer to the dorm room of an underclassman who has agreed to maintain it next year. The machine runs software called Direct Connect, which lets people on a local network easily trade files among their hard drives in a way that is usually undetectable to anyone outside the network. The senior described the system only on the condition of anonymity. The senior estimates that about a third of students on the campus have used the service, grabbing movies, music, or episodes of TV shows.

Regulations drafted by the U.S. Department of Education, which take effect early this summer, outline steps that colleges must take to prevent illegal swapping of copyrighted media. The rules were required by the reauthorized Higher Education Act. But the College of New Jersey, like most others, has established no new polices or prevention methods as a result of the new law, and has no plans to do so.

Those colleges, following the letter of the law, have strong strategic arguments for what they are—or are not—doing. Indeed, in the past colleges have gone well beyond legal requirements in their efforts to limit piracy. So some wonder if the law will have any practical impact, and if entertainment-industry groups will ease up on campuses, which they have long made a target of their antipiracy campaigns.

At New Jersey, compliance with the new rules simply involved creating a Web page listing the many things the institution was already doing: running an educational campaign on the evils of illegal file trading; publishing a list of legal alternatives to piracy; and using a networking tool that limits the amount of large files that can be sent in and out of the campus network.

None of those practices have eliminated underground pirate networks on many campuses. Nadine Stern, vice president for information technology and enrollment services at the college, said that while it would be technically possible for her staff to detect large amounts of file trading on the campus, that is not something they check for. "We've made the decision not to be detectives and not to look for it," she said, after I told her about the tradition of running the illegal-trading hub there. "We don't have the staff to do that, or the inclination—it's not our philosophy."

That may sound careless, but it's actually a strategic move, and one that college leaders believe is the best path to a long-term solution. The goal is to avoid a technological arms race that can drain college coffers to minimal effect. Even if colleges shut down a Direct Connect server today, for example, something new and harder to police would very likely emerge in its place. At least that's the way Martin D. Ringle, chief technology officer at Reed College, explained it to me, comparing illegal file trading to speeding on highways.

"People who say, Get out the technological sledgehammer, are basically saying, Let's put a cop behind every billboard on every highway across the U.S.," he said. "How much would that cost, and how oppressive that would be?"

The amount of speeding is not determined by the number of speed traps set by enthusiastic cops, he said, but by the culture and values of drivers. "You try to get people to understand that it's their own safety that's the driving force."

Industry Wants Action

Some officials of music and movie studios are not convinced by that argument, however. "You should ask those same CIO's if they are not bothering with spam filters because the bad guys keep coming up with new ways to do spam," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. "There will always be an arms race with anything involving technology and the Internet, but you do what can be done to address the problem in a reasonable way."

Entertainment groups fought to include in the new rules a requirement that colleges use network filters that can detect copyrighted materials and automatically stop transfers of those files. Colleges fought back, arguing that such filters are prohibitively expensive, especially considering the current economic climate.

The resulting compromise requires that colleges create a plan for fighting piracy, but that the plan can use any of several methods. Filters are an option but not a requirement to satisfy the law.

One key disagreement in the debate over how to curb online piracy is whether colleges represent a particularly fertile breeding ground for pirates and therefore need rules of their own.

Groups like the RIAA think so, but college leaders argue that fast Internet connections can now be found everywhere, and so can piracy. Why should colleges get hit with rules that do not apply to commercial Internet companies, which have far more users?

College networks are unique, though. Often they are faster than the networks provided to most homes. And because college students live in such small communities, it is easy for them to spread word of how to take advantage of that blazing-fast network by setting up software like Direct Connect.

For years colleges have gone far beyond any legal requirements to limit online file trading and to mount education campaigns. College orientations often feature skits about the dangers of stealing music online, and officials give out brochures, put up posters, and otherwise spread the word that piracy is wrong. Many officials were frustrated, then, when groups like the RIAA demanded that they do even more.

The landscape is changing, though. In 2008 the RIAA persuaded several major commercial service providers to agree to step up enforcement against routine piracy on their networks. One of them, Verizon Communications, recently began sending warnings to some illegal downloaders, and company officials have said those who repeatedly trade copyrighted files could face loss of service, according to a report on CNET, a technology Web site.

Several major video-sharing services, including YouTube, recently installed filters that automatically detect copyrighted material and prevent it from being posted to the video-sharing sites. When I recently attempted to upload a short video clip from a friend's wedding reception (of guests dancing to Prince's "1999"), YouTube automatically stripped out the audio track, warning me that its filters had detected copyrighted music and removed it.

So colleges may be losing the moral high ground.

"There has to be a rule of law on the Internet," said Richard Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal, after telling me about all the voluntary steps Internet companies are taking to fight piracy. "It cannot be that the image of the broadband Internet is like Somalia."

To Mr. Cotton, that means filters. "But if a university believes it can create effective measures in other ways," he said, "then that is their prerogative."

Change Some Can Believe In

Both sides insist that the new rules are leading to changes, of course. Sure, listing current antipiracy practices on a Web page, as the rules require, is a modest move. But it can have an impact, various officials argue.

"Campuses are taking it very seriously—they want to understand what they need to do in order to be in compliance," said Steven L. Worona, director of policy and networking programs at Educause, a nonprofit group that promotes technology in higher education.

Mr. Sherman, of the RIAA, argued that many colleges took "ad hoc" approaches to the issue before, and that now they must sit down and reassess those policies. "All those schools who thought, 'It's not my problem, and I'm not going to worry about it,' now have a legal reason to be proactive."

Educause recently unveiled a Web site with information about the new regulations. It provides case studies from six "role-model campuses," listing the steps they are taking to combat piracy. Another page lists 57 legal sources of music and movies on the Web.

But when asked which campuses have forged new policies in reaction to the law, Educause officials were unable to name any.

I asked Mr. Sherman whether he was happy with that outcome.

"It's hard to say in advance whether you're happy," he said. "The proof is going to be in the pudding after, not before."

Meanwhile student behavior may be changing for other reasons. The New Jersey student who ran the Direct Connect hub said students are grabbing fewer TV shows than in the past. Now they can get some shows, free, on the Web sites of TV networks.

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to jeff.young@chronicle.com or @jryoung on Twitter.

Comments

1. cranedank - April 18, 2010 at 03:16 pm

Yeah, they better hurry up before the students leave school and start changing the laws to something fair. Copyright is deeply amoral - people shouldn't be able to keep getting paid over and over for a job done once.
Imagine a carpenter getting paid each time someone used a door he had made - I'm sure he'd like that but thats not how the world works - or most of the world works, there is a small area where they make money of an amoral practice.

Oh and they all ignore the recent study showing most reports about piracy are... shall we save exaggerated: http://www.osnews.com/story/23153/US_Government_Admits_Most_Piracy_Studies_Are_Nonsense

2. arkadyali - April 18, 2010 at 10:09 pm

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3. francishamit - April 20, 2010 at 12:28 am

The Copyright Act is badly in need of reform, but this is property we are talking about and I know of no system where theft is a moral act. There are fair use provision for unpaid uses for research and scholarly work but when you use those huge library databases, your university pays tens of thousands of dollars to very large corporations every year. It's a multi-billion dollar industry. Someone is making money and its seldom the original authors of those articles. I sued--twice-- to get paid for some on mine and the cases were settled in my favor, but I'm the exception, not the rule. It took four years and was settled the first day in court.

"The internet is free" is a pernicious myth. So it the idea that copyright is immoral. If writers and artists are not paid, what becomes of literature and the arts. We do this for money, you know.
If we did not, how would we live? Without our creativity you will be doomed to a very dull life. So pay up!

4. johncoltrane - April 20, 2010 at 10:58 am

We all get the position of artists being compensated for their effort...their labor...however we determine what will be paid for work or you force consumers to choose alternatives...both legal or illegal.

All that many of us true consumers...lovers of the art...are upset about is the continuance of the RIAA's hold over music.

Christensen calls it "creative destruction" when one system replaces another with a better performance model. The Association's time has expired and only arcane copyright law can keep them in position to impact the conversation artists and music lovers are desparately trying to have...particularly young, bright people who need to give their money directly to those artists they enjoy so much.

We have arrived at that point in time where artists can take care of their own business and can choose what to charge consumers. They do not need the RIAA...and neither do I.

5. 11159995 - April 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

"Cranedank" seems not to understand how it is that writers get paid, not all at once like carpenters, but over time based on actual sales (even if a well-known writer can command a substantial advance up front). The analogy is basicaly flawed, and hence so is the argument based on it.

"John Coltrane" wants to see the RIAA and big music companies disappear, but he gives no evidence to show that musicians can achieve their goals at the highest level without big business investment. Free sharing is fine for startup bands, and undoubtedly the Internet has been a great boost for them in getting known to begin with. But once they get that recognition, how are they going to succeed on a national or international stage without the financial backing that only big music companies can provide? The experience of writers who gained recognition through early self-publishing, like the authors of "The Celestine Prophecy" and "The Purpose-Driven Life," show that they could only get so far on their own, and it took big publishers backing them to sell millions of copies eventually.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that many students are interested in going into industries that depend for their survival on intellectual property. Students applying for jobs in those industries should be asked, in the first question of their job interview, whether they have ever engaged in illegal file-sharing. See how many of them are hired when they answer honestly. If they lie, see what happens when they are found out later to have lied. -- Sandy Thatcher

6. hwertz - April 21, 2010 at 12:55 am

Intresting article. I do have one correction though, the first sentence discusses "handing down the tricks of stealing music" while the rest of the article is about copyright infringement. These are two different things, and in fact one reason no college student takes the RIAA or MPAA seriously is that they transparently and intentionally try to confuse the two, while students know what is what.

7. hlsimmons - April 21, 2010 at 09:35 am

hlsimmons

I BASICALLY AGREE WITH 11159995 (SANDY THATCHER) WHO TAKES EXCEPTION TO WHAT JOHN COLTRANE ABOUT HOW BANDS WILL PROSPER WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE OF FILE SHARING.

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