Colleges Attempt to Appease Music Industry

Music industry executives may sing a different song, but U.S. colleges and universities are, for the most part, addressing concerns about piracy and illegal file sharing.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sent letters to 40 colleges and universities in 25 states asking them to look for network piracy problems and take swift action if piracy is discovered.

“We cannot ignore the growing misuse of campus LAN systems or the toll this means of theft is taking on our industry,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman

Edmond Cooley, an assistant professor of engineering and chief technology strategist at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, said students and employees just don’t consider sharing as stealing, even though it is in direct violation of the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act].

“We need policies with teeth, processes for detection and action, and education,” he said. “The latter, in my opinion, is the most difficult.”

The DMCA, signed into law in 1998, increases the penalties for Internet copyright infringements. It also limits the liabilities of online service providers in copyright incidents involving their subscribers.

The Old College Try

Many colleges have taken actions to identify and prevent, and sometimes pull the plug on, piracy.

Rutgers University, for example, has established a bandwidth quota system for its users that limits the size of files passing through the wired and wireless networks.

The rationing system can also lock out users who exceed a specific amount of bandwidth within a seven-day period, explained Ken LeCompte, an administrator with Rutgers University Computing Services (RUCS).

“Our system wasn’t intended to police all the users,” he added. “It was intended to catch the users who were going to abuse it.”

Wireless networks are the most difficult to lock down since users can access them anywhere a signal is present. And colleges are reluctant to put too much security in place since it might create log-in and re-authentication problems for users, explained Cooley.

Law And Society

Efforts to crack down on piracy and comply with the law often butt heads with social issues and the belief that access to the Internet should be free and untraceable.

This is especially true in college libraries, which continually try to balance free speech rights with restrictions that protect against Internet hacking and identity theft.

“Should the Internet continue to allow anonymous access or should access always be traceable back to an individual?” noted Lowell Ballard, IT director at Northern Virginia Community College.

This debate emerged at the small community college when a hacker used the school’s library computers to steal someone’s identity, Ballard said. The FBI contacted the school to try to catch the hacker, but was unable to find the person since his log-in identity was anonymous.

“Historically, most Internet access has been traceable back to an owner. However, some libraries and businesses now give anonymous access, and that is where the hackers and identity thieves would naturally go to do their work,” Ballard explained.

Ultimately, state and local governments may step in to require colleges and businesses that operate networks -– particularly wireless systems -– to install security safeguards and keep a closer watch on activities.

This happened recently in New York’s Westchester County, where legislators passed a law making it illegal for a business not to take the necessary security precautions with wireless networks.

Other cities and states may soon follow, said Dartmouth’s Cooley, adding there are rumors the ‘Live Free or Die’ State of New Hampshire is toying with the idea of putting a similar law on its books.

“Dartmouth’s system is open by design to allow campus community members to go on the network and go to the library and look up books and things like that. It’s considered part of the educational mission.”

But “policing these systems will be an increasing trend.”

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