Students arriving for fall classes at colleges across the country are facing technological hurdles and stern warnings aimed at ending swapping of music and movie files over high-speed campus Internet connections.
Several of the universities are responding to a recording industry campaign to control the rampant copying of files over peer-to-peer networks.
Among other things, campuses are distributing brochures, running ads in student newspapers and devoting school Web pages to information on copyright infringement.
Some 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.
"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.
The Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing the five major recording companies, regards file-sharing as theft and is expected to file several hundred copyright infringement lawsuits by mid-September.
So far, at least 10 universities, including UCLA, have been served with subpoenas demanding they help the recording industry identify possible targets of such lawsuits, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for online civil liberties.
Two of the universities — Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — argued successfully in court that the subpoenas were improperly filed. But the victory didn't preclude the RIAA from obtaining a subpoena from a Massachusetts court.
Despite such challenges, RIAA President Carey Sherman said he was 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.
Sharing of music files is a crucial issue for the industry. It says the practice is largely responsible for a 25 percent drop in CD sales since 1999. Revenue from album sales has declined from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $12.6 billion in 2002, according to the RIAA.
The industry has begun to embrace pay music download services, particularly the successful Apple iTunes for Macintosh computer users. But a successful Windows-based service for the vast majority of home computer users has not yet emerged.
Last year, UCLA received dozens of notices every month from record companies and movie studios complaining about copyright violations. The school has been emphasizing the legal perils of file-sharing during student orientation this summer, Davis said. The message will be reinforced through e-mails to students and faculty when classes begin.
Similar tactics are being used at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
"When I first got here, there was no real warning given to students," said junior Errol Wilson, 20, an international relations and sociology major. "Since then, it seems like they've definitely beefed up."
Wilson, who has downloaded about 200 songs, said he received a warning from the university about his file-sharing when he was a freshman. But he hasn't received any other complaints since he changed his computer settings to block others from downloading music from his hard drive.
It's estimated that people download more than 2.6 billion copyright files every month on file-sharing networks. Users typically search for songs or movie files then download them directly from another file-sharer's computer. Users can block access to their own files without losing the ability to download from others.
The RIAA has been specifically targeting people who make their digital song collections available for sharing.
Ohio State University, the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, among others, also have become more aggressive in warning students about downloading music.
"Sometimes students don't realize when you download something, you're also making it available for upload. They don't understand the process," said Colleen Andrews, student computing services manager for the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. "The majority of (students) don't realize that what they're doing could get them into legal trouble."
Unless users change settings, some file-sharing software can make computers relay data among those signed onto the network.
The number of copyright violation notices received by the University of Virginia increased sharply during the spring term, so university officials designed a new Web site over the summer and are running ads in the student paper to boost awareness.
"We're doing everything we can think of to make sure students can understand this," said Shirley Payne, director for security coordination and policy.
At the University of California, Berkeley, which received one subpoena request in August, students living in campus housing must undergo orientation on copyright infringement before getting a university Internet account.
The university is also limiting the amount of data students can send or receive over the Internet. Students have a a five gigabyte weekly limit on uploading or downloading. If they exceed it twice, they can lose their Internet access.
That amount would allow students to download four movies and 200 song files without going over the limit.
"There are a lot of legitimate reasons for file-sharing," said Bob Sanders, a UC Berkeley spokesman. "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."
By Alex Veiga