Ten ways to combat illegal file sharing

Knowing how to comply with HEOA may take more than a simple read-through of the very flexible definition.
Knowing how to comply with HEOA might take more than a simple read-through of the law.

As colleges and universities prepare to meet a new federal directive to curb illegal file sharing, one expert has a list of 10 suggestions for higher-education technology officials.

In a recent webinar hosted by Audible Magic, a company that sells content protection technology and content information services to schools, participants learned that as of July 1, colleges and universities must comply with the peer-to-peer (P2P) provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), a federal regulation that aims to stem illegal file sharing.

“This is an important issue,” said Jay Friedman, vice president of marketing for Audible Magic, “because [according to a report by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts], in just the last year, the number of lawsuits filed by the U.S. Copyright Group alone has jumped. In 2009, there were 2,000 lawsuits filed. In just the few months in 2010, 14,000 have been filed.”

Friedman explained that “the burden is really on the institution to be HEOA compliant, because this new regulation requires annual disclosure to students, requires the use of one or more tech-based deterrents, and states that institutions must ‘effectively combat unauthorized P2P use with measurable results.'”

But knowing how to comply with HEOA might take more than a simple read-through of the law’s very vague definition.

According to Warren Arbogast, founder and president of the Boulder Management Group, which helps higher-education institutions work with technology, most colleges and universities are confused about what needs to be done in order to be HEOA compliant.

“The definition of compliance is fuzzy at best, and because of this, many universities and colleges do not have cohesive plans in place. They tend to go more with a Band-Aid approach, meaning lots of fixes without comprehensive input from other departments,” said Arbogast.

Arbogast urged colleges and universities to first define what compliance means for their campus, then identify key stakeholders (such as IT, legal counsel, copyright agents, student affairs, and residential housing) and involve them in the process, and make sure to involve students and faculty as well.

“Communication is essential,” he said, “both internal and external, such as with vendors and organizations like EDUCAUSE that can help with these issues. So many times I’ve seen IT departments trying to go it alone.”

Another problem that Arbogast pointed to was campus leaders’ opinion that the emphasis on curbing illegal file sharing eventually will wane before any major action needs to be taken.

“Many institutions believe that the issue will just go away, or that thinking up a solution based solely on the IT department will take care of the issue. The notion, despite what many institutions may think, that this issue is dead is false. The recording industry, the film industry, the publishing industry, the game industry, and many more are not out of money and are banding together to take action,” he said.

Friedman presented a list of 10 best practices that have emerged from his company’s work with many higher-education institutions in solving illegal P2P file-sharing issues: