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Universities Required to Fight Student Piracy

7 Jul, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

Universities nationwide that receive Title IV funding from the federal government are now required to actively help prevent illegal downloads and file sharing among students, thanks to a provision in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA).

By July of this year, the Act required that universities “to the extent practicable, offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.” Universities had to develop plans to “effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material” and “offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.”

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have long been fighting to keep piracy at bay on university campuses. In 2006 the two groups fired off letters to 40 universities, demanding they take actions to prevent rampant piracy using the universities’ local networks.

In late June the RIAA said that in less than two years, it has sent infringement warnings to more than 269,000 students in the United States. In coordination with American Council on Education, the RIAA has launched a website, CampusDownloading.com, giving universities orientation materials to help educate students about copyright laws.

“It’s the first time ever in the history of dealing with the issue [of piracy] that Congress is holding schools accountable and requiring them to address the problem,” said Cary Sherman, general counsel for the RIAA. “Many schools have already taken necessary steps to deal with the issue, with great success and who deserve real credit. But there are some universities who are reluctant and perhaps prefer to remain on the sidelines without actually doing anything to proactively confront the piracy situation on their campus.”

The MPAA notes in a statement that universities and colleges are required to offer alternatives to illegal downloading, such as access to iTunes.

“Upon request, an institution must include information regarding institutional policies and sanctions related to copyright infringement to prospective and enrolled students,” the organization said. “This information must explicitly inform students of the civil and criminal liabilities and disciplinary action risked in engaging in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials, including peer-to-peer file sharing, with a summary of penalties for the violation of federal copyright laws.”

In the wake of the passing of HEOA, The Campus Computing Project did a study on the potential costs to colleges and universities to be in compliance with the provisions. Using data from more than 320 colleges and universities nationwide, the 2008 study found each institution of higher learning spent between $350,000 and $500,000 a year to try to prevent piracy.

Each university has taken a different tactic to comply with the requirements, but most have a common theme: software on local networks identifies when peer-to-peer software is used, or illegal downloading takes place, and offending students are often warned before serious action is taken.

At The Ohio State University, the school denies Internet access to students who violate copyrights, and threatens disciplinary action both inside the university’s Office of Student Judicial Affairs and outside the university.

“Copying material in digitized form is easy to do, but that doesn't make it legal,” the university warns students on its website. “Avoid the temptation to reproduce copyrighted material in any form and on any media, unless you have explicit permission to do so.”

Some states handled the new requirements via their education commissions, rather than let universities work it out themselves. For example Tennessee in 2009 required all its universities to report on how they were fighting piracy, The Tennessean reported.

The paper reported that at Middle Tennessee State University, the school’s network was reworked to detect whether students were running peer-to-peer programs and kicked students off the network when those programs were found.

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