Music companies take crackdown to campuses
WASHINGTON (AP) -- College students who faced lawsuits for illegally sharing large music collections over campus computer networks increasingly risk being unplugged from the Internet or even suspended over lesser complaints by the recording industry.
In a nationwide crackdown, the music industry is sending thousands more copyright complaints to universities this school year than last. In some cases, students are targeted for allegedly sharing a single mp3 file online.
A few schools -- Ohio University and Purdue University are at the top of the list -- already have received more than 1,000 complaints accusing individual students since last fall. For students who are caught, punishments can vary from e-mail warnings to semester-long suspensions from classes.
Ohio University said students caught twice sharing music online would face the same disciplinary sanctions as classmates accused of violence or cheating: suspension, probation or an assignment to write a homework paper on the subject. Ohio said no student ever has been caught twice.
"When they told me I freaked," said Ryan Real of Louisville, an Ohio University sophomore who was accused in November of illegally sharing not music but a popular video game, "Grand Theft Auto," over the school's network. Real said he was ordered to delete the game and the Bittorrent file-sharing software he was using from his computer before the school would turn his Internet connection back on.
"Everybody does it," Real said. "The odds that you are going to get caught, it's not something you think about." Classmates who also have been caught "still download illegally," Real said.
At the request of The Associated Press, the trade group for the largest music labels, the Recording Industry Association of America, identified the 25 universities to which it has sent the most copyright complaints so far this school year.
The group, which has long pressured schools to act more aggressively, said software tools are improving to trace illegal file-sharing on campuses.
"We are taking advantage of that technology to make universities aware of the problem on their campuses," said RIAA President Cary Sherman. "They need to be sending a message to their students about how to live a lawful life."
The top five schools are Ohio, Purdue, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Tennessee and the University of South Carolina. The RIAA complained about almost 15,000 students at the 25 universities, nearly triple the number for the previous school year.
"They're trying to make a statement," said Randall Hall, who polices computers at Michigan State University, seventh on the list with 753 complaints. Michigan State received 432 such complaints in December alone, when students attended classes for only half the month.
Hall meets personally with students caught twice and forces them to watch an eight-minute anti-piracy DVD produced by the RIAA. A third-time offender can be suspended for a semester; at least one student was targeted with three strikes so far this year.
"I get the whole spectrum of excuses," Hall said. "The most common answer I get is, 'All my friends are doing this. Why did I get caught?"'
The University of Tennessee requires second-time offenders to carry computers to a technology lab where popular music-sharing programs are deleted before Internet connections are restored. A student subjected to a third complaint -- which typically happens once each year -- faces punishment that ranges from a formal reprimand to suspension.
"They're apologetic and somewhat embarrassed," said Tim Rogers, the school's vice chancellor for student affairs.
At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- which received 897 complaints -- first- and second-time offenders receive escalating warnings about piracy. After a third complaint, the school unplugs a student's Internet connection and sends the case to a dean for punishment.
The music group said each university should set its own penalties for stealing songs and said campuses are rife with such thefts. "When we look at the problem, it's particularly acute in the college context," said the group's chief executive, Mitch Bainwol.
The trade group said popular software programs it has targeted at schools include AresWarez, BitTorrent, eDonkey and other programs that operate on the Gnutella and FastTrack services.
Under federal law, universities that receive complaints about students illegally distributing copyrighted songs generally must act to stop repeat offenders or else the schools can be sued. The entertainment industry typically can identify a student only by his or her numerical Internet address and must rely on the school to correlate that information with its own records to trace a person's identity.
Some schools aggressively warn students after they receive complaints. Others don't. Purdue, which has received 1,068 complaints so far this year but only 37 in 2006, said it rarely even notifies students accused by the RIAA because it's too much trouble to track down alleged offenders. Purdue said its students aren't repeat offenders.
"In a sense, the (complaint) letter is asking us to pursue an investigation and as the service provider we don't see that as our role," spokesman Steve Tally said. "We are a leading technology school with thousands and thousands of curious and talented technology students."
SU students rank 12th in illegal music downloads
Syracuse University students are among the most frequent online music copyright violators in the country, says the Recording Industry Association of America.
SU is No. 12 in a ranking of universities that have received the most number of violation notices from the trade group for the largest music labels in the country.
The music industry is cracking down on students. And the RIAA is sending thousands more violation notices to universities this school year than it did last year as it targets music it says is illegally downloaded over campus computer networks.
"One of the misconceptions that some people may have is that when you are engaging in illegal downloading and uploading of music, it's anonymous. It's not," said RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy. "You're on a public network distributing files on your hard drive to millions of strangers. That's not anonymous activity."
At the request of The Associated Press, the RIAA compiled the list of the top 25 universities to receive violations. The universities that were not in the top 25 were not ranked.
SU has received 488 complaints from the RIAA this year. That is up from the 181 complaints during the 2005-2006 academic year and about a third the number of complaints received by No. 1 offending school, Ohio University, that led with 1,287 complaints.
But Deborah Beishline, an information technology consultant in the security department at SU, disagreed with the RIAA rankings. "We can be put on a list, but we don't know what they're measuring or how they're measuring it," she said.
Although SUis the only Central New York university to make the RIAA list, it is not the only one to enroll law-breaking students. The RIAA has issued 105 violation notices to Cornell University, 36 to Colgate University and 25 to SUNY Cortland.
The ever-increasing technological capabilities of the Internet have allowed the RIAA to detect more copyright violators than in the past. This accounts for the three-fold increase of complaints to the top 25 offending universities from just under 5,000 notices during the 2005-2006 academic year to the nearly 15,000 notices that have been issued since September.
At Cornell University, Tracy Mitrano, the director of information technology policy, has also received more complaints about illegal downloading than in years past.
But it's not just music anymore. "We associate the notices with the RIAA, but the content owners are much more varied than them," she said.
Mitrano's inbox of complaints includes notices from film companies such as Universal Studies and Paramount Studios and software companies such as the Business Software Alliance and the Entertainment Software Association.
RIAA President Cary Sherman complained about the disparity between a dying music industry and a booming music consumption pattern being caused in large part by Internet-savvy youth.
"If you look at the top 10 albums, what used to sell 60 million copies is now selling 25 million copies and everybody else is getting that music by peer-to-peer file sharing systems or by burning copies from their friends," Sherman said. "More music is being acquired than ever before but less and less is being paid for. The industry can't survive and invest in new artists if that continues to happen."
Under federal law,universities that receive complaints about students illegally distributing copyrighted songs generally must act to stop repeat offenders or else the schools can be sued. The entertainment industry typically can identify a student only by his or her numerical Internet address and must rely on the school to correlate that information with its own records to trace a person's real-world identity.
At SU, when the RIAA sends a violation notice, the first disciplinary step is to contact the offending student. The student's computer is then disconnected form the university network. After the student reads and acknowledges the SU computing use policy and states what steps will be taken to prevent another occurrence, the student's computer is reconnected to the network.