The Recording Industry Association of America (RIIA) said it has sent 1.8 million infringement notices to commercial internet service providers since October 2008—and 269,609 to colleges and universities.
The RIAA, which represents the major music labels, stressed that the numbers don’t necessarily reflect piracy trends, but rather the group’s ability to detect it.
College officials argue the notices are a flawed measure of illegal activity, because it’s up to copyright holders whether to send them and false positives are possible.
RIAA President Cary Sherman said the group can’t say whether campus programs are putting a dent in piracy. But he said the threat of a gradually tougher response to repeat violations is working, pointing to the University of California, Los Angeles, as one example.
“We think we’re beginning to get to a scale now where it actually can make a difference,” he said.
UCLA has developed a system that notifies users by eMail when the school receives a copyright infringement notice, setting into motion a process that includes a “quarantine” on the computer’s internet access and the student’s attendance at an educational workshop. Repeat offenders typically face one-semester suspensions.
Since the workshops started, repeat offenders have virtually disappeared, said Kenn Heller, assistant dean of students. Earlier this year, UCLA also struck a partnership with Clicker Media Inc. to make both university-produced videos and network TV shows, music videos, and movies available through its undergraduate student internet portal.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which also pressed for the legislation, is encouraged by what campuses are doing, but it’s too early to tell whether it will curb piracy, spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaltman said.
Few campuses have gone as far as Illinois State, which raised eyebrows by seeking and accepting entertainment industry money to underwrite a now-abandoned research project on digital piracy.
The university also blocked all peer-to-peer activity in residence halls and on wireless access points, said Mark Walbert, Illinois State’s chief technology officer. Students who use the technology for legal means—like tapping open-source software or downloading World of Warcraft game updates—can get exceptions.
For students seeking legal download options, the school developed BirdTrax, a web page with links to free movie and music streaming web sites such as Hulu and Pandora.
In 2007, the University of Michigan took a different approach, launching a campus initiative called “BAYU,” which stands for “Be Aware You’re Uploading.” At little cost, the school developed a software program that automatically notifies users of university networks when they are uploading, or sharing files from their computer with users elsewhere.
The university does not look at what is being shared, and notices go out regardless of whether the activity is legal or illegal, said Jack Bernard, a university lawyer who devised the program, which Michigan offers free to other schools.
As a result, the number of copyright infringement notices the university receives has slowed to a trickle, he said.
“We think scare tactics and most technological means don’t realize the ends we want, because technological means never seem to keep up with people’s ability to thwart them,” Bernard said.
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