In its new report, “The Campus Costs of P2P Compliance,” the Campus Computing Project makes clear that many colleges are spending a lot of money — more than they’d like — to keep students from downloading pirated music and movies. But one of the report’s most interesting findings concerns what colleges aren’t paying for: legal alternatives to peer-to-peer piracy.
Just three of the 321 institutions surveyed for the study reported spending money on a legal music or movie library, says Kenneth C. Green, the Campus Computing Project’s founding director. That number would almost certainly have been higher in 2005, when dozens of colleges had purchased licenses to use commercial services like Napster, Cdigix, and Ruckus. According to an Educause survey from that year, nearly one in five institutions were considering signing a contract with a legal downloading service.
So what happened in the past few years? Napster has all but abandoned the collegiate market, and Cdigix discontinued its music and movie libraries. In the meantime, Ruckus shifted its business model: It now pulls in revenue from advertisers and lets college students sign up for free.
A few years ago, colleges that had signed deals with the services talked them up as a way of improving student life: According to one common refrain, legal downloading services were going to become must-have dorm-room amenities, like high-speed Internet access and cable television. But it appears that student demand for such services was never all that strong. And colleges decided that they couldn’t justify taking a bite out of their budgets without getting more in return.
The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which President Bush signed in August, includes language requiring colleges “to offer alternatives to illegal file sharing,” a provision that might once have struck fear into the hearts of campus CIO’s. But as Mr. Green points out in his new report, even that mandate seems toothless. As a briefing memo prepared in August by the American Council on Education puts it, that provision is “not an absolute mandate… By no means does [the HEA reauthorization] require institutions to offer students free music or videos through legal channels.” —Brock Read