Students arriving for fall classes at colleges across the country are facing new restrictions and stern warnings to discourage the swapping of pirated music and movies over high-speed campus Internet connections.
Some schools are even using software to choke the amount of data that can flow in or out of a computer when students use Kazaa and other file-sharing programs.
And in a new approach disclosed Tuesday, at least a dozen universities are exploring ways to offer students a fee-based music service whose fees could be bundled with room and board costs.
“We’re feeling a great deal of pressure as a result of what the entertainment industry is doing, and we’re stepping up a lot of activities to address it,” said Jim Davis, associate vice chancellor for information technology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Last year, UCLA received dozens of notices every month from record companies and movie studios complaining about copyright violations.
The Recording Industry Association of America regards file-sharing as theft. Last spring, the RIAA settled lawsuits against four college students who allegedly offered thousands of songs for download on their campus networks. The group is expected to file several hundred more copyright infringement lawsuits this month.
At least 10 universities have been served with subpoenas demanding they help the recording industry identify possible targets of such lawsuits, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group.
Overall, RIAA President Cary Sherman said he is gratified by the attention copyright violations are getting on campuses.
“There’s a world of difference this year than just a year ago in terms of the seriousness that universities are taking this issue,” he said in an interview.
In a conference call Tuesday, Sherman said the RIAA has not threatened to sue schools themselves but has instead spent more time persuading them that stopping file-sharing “is the right thing to do.”
Many universities also are eager to keep their computer networks unclogged by the transit of huge song and movie files.
Sharing of music files is a crucial issue for the industry, which claims the practice is largely responsible for a 31 percent drop in CD sales since mid-2000.
The industry has begun to embrace for-pay download services, particularly the successful Apple iTunes for Macintosh users that requires no subscription fee. But a successful Windows-based service for the vast majority of home computer users has not yet emerged.
Meanwhile, though, several universities are exploring ways to make music-downloading services available to students at a cost that could be incorporated into roam and board bills, much like cable TV and newspaper delivery fees.
“If music is that important to our students, some of the things we might do is simply provide the music to them, by contracting with an online service for either streaming, so students can listen to it whenever they want, or perhaps to download, maybe even to make a copy,” said Graham Spanier, president of Penn State University and co-chair of a committee of college and entertainment officials working together to stop song-swapping on campus.
The more visible tactic this fall is schools’ increased mention of the issue in student orientations, e-mails and ads in campus newspapers.
“When I first got here, there was no real warning given to students,” said Errol Wilson, 20, a junior at the University of Southern California. “Since then, it seems like they’ve definitely beefed up.”
Wilson, who has downloaded about 200 songs, said USC warned him about his file-sharing when he was a freshman. But he hasn’t received any other complaints since he changed his computer’s settings to block others from uploading music from his hard drive.
Even when they block file-sharing, users of swapping software can still download from others.
Sherman praised technological strategies in place at some schools, like the University of Florida’s filtering program that blocks song-swapping. Ohio State University forbids all server-based applications by students living on campus.
But some schools appear to be cracking down only on the egregious file-swappers.
At the University of California, Berkeley, which received a subpoena request in August, students in campus housing must undergo orientation on copyright infringement before getting a university Internet account.
UC Berkeley also limits the data students can send or receive over the Internet to five gigabytes a week. If they exceed it twice, they can lose their Internet access. That limit would nevertheless permit students to download four movies and 200 songs a week.
“There are a lot of legitimate reasons for file-sharing,” said Berkeley spokesman Bob Sanders. “There are a lot of (music files) out there that are not copyrighted. We wanted to give students room to use the Internet for what it was meant for, but we do want to emphasize to them that there are illegal uses.”