piracy PIRACY

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Capital News Service

       LANSING – In the war against illegal piracy of movies and music, a contentious

relationship has developed between some universities and groups that represent the

movie and music industry.

       The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has long asserted that

college students are the leading culprits in illegally downloading music. The organization

contends that more than half of college students download music and movies illegally.

       Universities, in general, comply with industry organizations such as the RIAA

and its film counterpart, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), because

they act as an Internet service provider (ISP) and closely monitor their users’ web

activity. Current law doesn’t compel commercial ISPs, such as Comcast or Time Warner

Cable Inc., since they almost never track what their clients do on the Internet.

       The volume of illegal downloading seems to parallel the size of the university,

according to RIAA figures. Michigan State University, the largest school in the state, was

once cited by the industry as one of the worst offenders, in terms of illegal downloaders.

       At Eastern Michigan University, roughly half the size of MSU, administrators say

they haven’t had much of a problem with this issue.

       “We receive only handful of infringement complaints per year from the RIAA and

the MPAA,” said Rocky Jenkins, EMU’s director of network and system services.

       David Gift, MSU vice-provost for libraries, computing and technology, said the

university “cares about adequate protection of intellectual property because we generate
it ourselves.”

       Gift said that while MSU has cooperated with the RIAA for more than six years –

ever since the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which strengthened the industry’s ability

to combat illegal downloading - he has become leery of the tactics used against students.

       Recently, Gift said, the RIAA began sending what he characterized as

“threatening” letters to the university to pass on to students whom the industry suspects

of downloading illegally. The letter informs a student that he or she will be sued unless a

fee is paid, by credit card. The amount demanded is generally between $3,000 and


       Gift said courts have stopped the practice in a few states, but not in Michigan.

       According to both Jenkins and Gift, a student can be caught when his or her

Internet Protocol (IP) address, or the numerical code that represents an individual

computer, is found to be either downloading or uploading copyrighted material. The

industry then tracks that IP address and is able to find out what the ISP is, though not the

violator’s name. The industry then contacts the ISP, demanding it take action against the


       Generally, universities in Michigan employ similar tactics in dealing with illegal

downloaders. Western Michigan University and MSU both treat a student’s first offense

as an “educational opportunity” because students have often been downloading since they

first learned to use a computer, believing they were not going to be caught.

       On the second offense, both universities block a student’s personal computer from

the network for one week. The student is still free to use public computers on campus.
       “For a college student to lose network connectivity is tantamount to getting

kicked out of school,” said Gift.

       After a third offense, an MSU student is referred to the university’s judicial affairs

program, which could result in suspension or even expulsion from school. A WMU

student, by contrast, could lose access to the Internet for a whole semester.

       At EMU, a student is immediately referred to the university’s judicial affairs after

the first offense and his or her computer is disconnected from the campus network.

       Richard Burton, who works in WMU’s office of information technology, the unit

which handles such cases, said he had never seen a fourth offense.

       The RIAA described MSU as one of five “success stories” in halting illegal

downloading. The other four are the University of South Carolina, Howard University in

Washington D.C., Seton Hall in New Jersey and Ohio State University.

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