Getting burned: UVA out to halt music theft

Last month, Brianna LaHara was an ordinary 12-year-old: riding her bike to the pool, doing homework at the kitchen table, and illegally downloading hundreds of popular songs from the Internet.

Then the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) came after her, and made the New York middle schooler the first casualty in the copyright wars, with her name plastered in newspapers across the country. Brianna's $2,000 settlement might look like a bargain once this is over, but the damage has been done. The digital music debate now has a human face.

The epidemic of illegal file sharing on college campuses has been well reported in the media. Limited budgets, free high-speed Internet access, overpriced CDs, and an "everyone is doing it" attitude have made digital music trading one of the hottest trends of the Internet age. But it looks like the party might be winding down. The RIAA is cracking down on copyright violators and issuing subpoenas, mostly to users who share more than 1,000 songs, in hopes that the $10,000-plus settlements and fines will serve as a deterrent to the rest of MP3 Nation.

But that sort of thing wouldn't ever happen in Charlottesville, right?

"I can't think of one University student who hasn't downloaded songs at one point," says fourth-year student Kimberly Liu. "It's such an incredible service. Students can save hundreds of dollars by not having to buy CDs and can access individual songs instead of buying a whole CD of songs they don't want."

And Andrew Leonard, co-chair of the Student Information Technology Advisory Committee (SITAC), worries that the University's high profile will make local students particularly juicy targets for the music industry.

"Right now, the RIAA is targeting those people who will garner them the most press," he said. "UVA is a very prestigious school, so if they get the chance to subpoena someone here, you'd better believe they'll do it.

"Some people seem to think UVA will protect them if they're caught," Leonard added, "but that's just not the case.

"If the RIAA comes to UVA with valid proof that someone is infringing on their copyrights, UVA is required by law to supply them with that user's information."

Fortunately, the school has been working very hard to keep that from happening. It's a tough spot for the University, protecting students from lawsuits without compromising their privacy.

Education seems to be the answer. The basic message? "Trading copyrighted files will get you in trouble, and we won't be here to catch you if you fall."

"File sharing is not in itself illegal," says Shirley Payne, Director of Security Coordination with the UVA Office of Information Technologies (IT), "but the sharing of copyrighted materials is. We're using many different communication channels to educate students, and the message is that [they] run the risk of lawsuits by copyright owners if they engage in illegal downloading of copyrighted materials."

Mass emails, posters, warnings on community websites, and the SITAC are all important parts of the public information program, intended to remind students that, even online, they're responsible for their actions.

"Simply put, everyone who uses University computing facilities has the responsibility to use them in an ethical, professional, legal manner," Payne says.

IT officials drove the message home during First Year Orientation last month and are hopeful that their work will soon pay off. Illegal file trading activity nationwide has been on a downward spiral since the summer, although University administrators vow to remain vigilant.

"People are finding some outrageous reasons to justify downloading copyrighted music," says Leonard, "but the fact of the matter is that if you did not pay for the music, you're stealing it. Right now, we're pushing very hard to educate everyone about the consequences of sharing copyrighted materials because the last thing we want to see is one of our own students being sued."



NEWS SIDEBAR- Modern-day pirates: Students take what they please

Published September 25, 2003, in issue #0238 of the Hook

A new national study indicates that attitudes among students have the potential to open the floodgate for increased software piracy. (It's not just music that gets pirated. Commercial software is illegally copied to the tune of $2 billion a year in the U.S.)

Key findings include:

* While more than 75 percent of college professors and administrators say software piracy is wrong, only 24 percent of students believe that.

* More than 40 percent of educators say it's "okay" to share or swap software to cut costs.

* 23 percent of college and university students have downloaded software, with only 32 percent paying for it all or most of the time.

* 69 percent have downloaded music, with only 8 percent of them paying for it all or most of the time.

* 26 percent have downloaded movies, with only 4 percent paying for it all or most of the time.

The Business Software Alliance commissioned the study this spring.

"Students aren't being told, 'Downloading unlicensed or illegal files is a mistake,'" said Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of BSA.

While the RIAA has made headlines with its high-profile suits against illegal downloaders, "BSA would much rather take the education route," says BSA spokesperson Suzanne Jackson, who runs a Charlottesville marketing agency.–from releases