We've written A NUMBER OF times about the problem of illegal file sharing on college and university networks. Several years ago when the issue first came onto the public radar, the conventional wisdom was that colleges and universities wouldn't be held liable for the activities of students on their networks. Most institutions created written policies on file sharing and often included a warning against it during freshman orientation. To show it meant business, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) unleashed a flood of lawsuits against more than 18,000 individuals-many of them university students-over a three-year period.
For a while, the threat of litigation seemed to slow illegal activity. But now industry officials say file sharing is on the rise once again because students have found a new way to circumvent detection. With the easy availability of inexpensive servers, they say, students can launch a LAN (Local Area Network) from a dorm room and continue sharing music or video files. The LAN typically can't be detected from the outside, so students believe they are safe from prying eyes.
In an effort to step up the pressure to end file-sharing, the RIAA and MPAA sent letters to 40 colleges and universities (no word on which ones) in 25 states last month, warning them that illegal activity had been detected at their schools. The letter notes a new "systematic program to identify and curtail" piracy on campus and hints at serious consequences if schools don't do more to curb the practice.
"We cannot ignore the growing misuse of campus LAN systems or the toll this method of theft is taking on our industry," said RIAA President Cary Sherman. "As we prioritize our focus on campus LAN piracy in the coming year, we hope administrators will take this opportunity to fully evaluate their systems and take action to stop theft by all means."
Institutions are often divided when it comes to monitoring student network usage, says Vance Ikezoye, CEO of Audible Magic Corporation, a firm that provides copyright management solutions. "On one side are those sympathetic to intellectual property rights and on the other are those concerned about user access to technology, academic freedom and personal privacy," he says. "With the help of new policies and procedures, some institutions are successfully bringing these two sides together. The ones that do are likely to see the RIAA/MPAA letters go away."
Ikezoye says institutions basically fall into one of four categories when it comes to their response to P2P file sharing:
Those that are unaware of the seriousness of the problem, or who are afraid of interfering with students' communication
Those that have curtailed file sharing with applications that limit or restrict bandwidth access
Those that allow legitimate P2P use but filter illegal transactions with special products
Those that filter illegal file sharing and also offer legitimate alternatives and incentives to students, such as the reformed Napster.
Where does your institution fit? If you don't know what's happening on your network, now is the time to find out. Doing so will lead to a better-managed, more secure network, and perhaps an end to the RIAA/MPAA complaints.
This issue's special section, "Going Green while Saving Green," is available as a free download from our website, as is the entire new digital edition of University Business. The digital edition includes clickable links to all the resources noted in the issue, as well as a global word search function and a "send to a friend" option. Check it out at www.universitybusiness.com.
Write to Tim Goral at email@example.com.