Movie industry to colleges: Remember copyright rules


Federal law requires colleges to devise policies against the illegal downloading of music and movies.

First, it was the recording industry that colleges had to worry about, and now it’s the movie industry, too: Thousands of colleges and universities received a friendly reminder from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) this month, with MPAA officials highlighting a federal law that requires institutions to devise policies against the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

The letter, signed by Daniel Mandil, senior executive vice president of the MPAA, reiterated that universities must publish a “written plan to effectively combat the unauthorized distribution” of illegally downloaded movies, TV shows, and music using the campus’s internet connection.

Mandil points out that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), passed by Congress in 2008, requires colleges and universities to create policies against illegal file sharing as a condition to receive federal student aid.

The movie industry letter was sent to higher-education officials Dec. 6.

The MPAA said it will send notices to institutions citing “specific instances” of illegal downloading over the school’s network, which has become commonplace since websites like Napster cropped up a decade ago, offering vast libraries of illegal downloads for free.

Failing to crack down on illegal downloading, Mandil said in his letter, could be detrimental to students who hope to enter the music or movie industry after school.

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“…Online theft is a job killer that also reduces the number of opportunities for graduates of your institution to make a living in the creative sector,” the MPAA letter said.

The letter suggests ways colleges can battle illegal downloading, including seminars for students who are caught snatching movies and music off illegal websites. The MPAA also urged higher-education officials to have warnings pop up when students access illegal sites, or block the portals altogether.

The movie industry letter includes a link to a website that summarizes the HEOA’s provisions about colleges’ role in protecting copyrighted material. The site, RespectCopyrights.com, has a directory of legal online sources of movies, shows, and music.

The MPAA warning also encourages colleges to visit a website listing “role model” campuses that have implemented strategies aimed at deterring students from illegal downloading of copyrighted music and movies, including provisions and punishments for those who violate the college’s policy.

The website is run by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit organization that advocates for technology use in higher education.

EDUCAUSE’s “role model” web page reminds college officials that “compliance strategies will … change as technology and business models evolve,” and it provides examples of successful strategies employed at a dozen institutions.

“There is thus no one-size-fits-all approach, now or in the future,” the organization’s statement said, adding that “colleges and universities have a great deal of flexibility in determining how they will comply with” the federal law.

At the University of Delaware, for example, campus officials in charge of enforcing copyright rules enroll policy violators in a course that details copyright laws after the person’s internet connection is cut off.

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The student must score an 80 percent or higher on an exam at the end of the course to have campus network access again. Students found guilty of illegal downloading have to have their computers examined by an IT staff member, which costs $75 for the first violation and $110 for any other illegal activity thereafter.

The university also has launched a website that lists legal downloading sites. Students’ options include Music United, free streaming site Pandora, SHOUTcast, and RadioTower.com.

In addition, Delaware highlights media resources that are available in the public domain and can be downloaded free of charge at InternetArchive, a site with more than 110,000 movies and 218,000 audio recordings.

Baylor University in Waco, Texas, uses a program called BlueCoatPacketShaper to restrict internet bandwidth on campus when peer-to-peer networks are used by students, faculty, or staff, according to EDUCAUSE’s “role models” website.

“This prevents computers from acting as servers or super nodes in peer-to-peer networks,” the site says.

Baylor students found guilty of violating copyright policy could be disconnected from the university’s network for up to two weeks. The  offending student would have to use a campus computer lab to access the internet during his or her two-week punishment, according to Baylor’s policy.

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