New Bill Requires Colleges To Curb Illegal Downloads

This story was written by Roscoe Elliott, Daily Bruin
The House of Representatives passed a bill last month that increases the responsibility of universities to control and deter illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which aims at helping people afford higher education, contains a clause requiring schools that accept federal financial aid to take a more active roll in tracking piracy on their campuses.

The requirements put on schools for managing Internet piracy can be divided into three parts. The first and second require universities to inform students of their policies regarding file sharing and offer legal alternatives respectively.

UCLA officials have implemented programs such as Get Legal and have partnered with companies such as Ruckus and iTunes in the past to address these issues without increasing students' tuition.

"From a UCLA point of view, I feel like we've already satisfied these," said Kent Wada, director of information technology strategic policy at UCLA, referring to the first two requirements.

The third provision mandates that schools look for some type of technological deterrence to restrict peer-to-peer networking and illegal downloading.

The technology used to monitor students is not only costly and difficult to manage, but puts enforcement of copyright infringement in the hands of the university, Wada said. The primary concern is that UCLA will bear the burden of dealing with costs and management.

"The Digital Millennium Copyright Act says it's the copyright owner's responsibility to look for infringement of their work. (With the new legislation,) we would effectively become the people who are looking for copyright infringement on the responsibility of the owner," he added.

Another concern for universities involves the privacy of their students.

Kenn Heller, the assistant dean of students, said UCLA has tried to protect the identity of students when issued notices by copyright holders. The university delivers pre-litigation notices, or letters offering an out-of-court settlement, to students so that they can accept the terms anonymously instead of going to court.

"The university has no intention of changing its position. The only way we will do that is when we are forced to legally," Heller said.

Despite the legal risks, students choose to download music and other copyrighted material illegally.

"I download music because I can't afford to buy it," said Felipe, a fourth-year economics student who asked that his last name be withheld for fear of legal action.

He said he often downloads songs that he cannot find on iTunes or through CDs, but if he could afford it, he would pay for his music.

Some students have even formed support services to help others facing legal action.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that some law students at the University of San Francisco have set up a legal clinic to aid undergraduates accused of illegally downloading music.

For university officials at UCLA, however, one of the challenges they face is dealing with students living off campus.

The Motion Picture Association of America recently reduced earlier estimates that college students are responsible for 44 percent of illegal-downloading losses. The MPAA now places that figure at 15 percent. Because less than 20 percent of students live on campus, university officials said they believe there is little that schools can do directly to combat most cases.

"Nationwide, less than 20 percent of students live on campus. If you take that figure plus the 15-percent figure, 97 percent of the problem is something we can't do anything about," Wada said.

This problem has led university officials to put effort into educating students about the risks of illegal downloading rather thanregulating the activity.

"Our approach is really to focus on education and tell students what copyright (infringement) is. It is part of our role preparing students for their lives after they leave UCLA. We are trying to help the problem over time (and) not just the immediate problem," Wada said.

Along with the Get Legal program, administrators are offering programs for people who have been identified more than once. Heller said he believes that students are often unaware that file-sharing programs are running on their computers or that what they are downloading is illegal.

However, Heller said there is never any way to completely stop students who want to download music illegally.

"UCLA students are adults. I just want to make sure they understand the decision they are making," he said.
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE