Music labels threaten to sue illegal file-swappers

The embattled music industry on June 25 disclosed aggressive plans for an unprecedented escalation in its fight against internet piracy, threatening to sue hundreds of individual computer users who illegally share music files online. The annoucement gives schools and colleges yet another reason to warn students (and others) not to share copyright-protected materials over their networks.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), citing substantial sales declines, said it would begin on June 26 to search internet file-sharing networks to identify users who offer “substantial” collections of MP3 music files for downloading. It expects to file at least several hundred lawsuits seeking financial damages within eight to 10 weeks.

Executives for the RIAA, the Washington-based lobbying group that represents major labels, would not say how many songs on a user’s computer would qualify for a lawsuit. The new campaign comes just weeks after U.S. appeals court rulings requiring internet service providers to identify subscribers suspected of illegally sharing music and movie files.

The RIAA’s president, Carey Sherman, said tens of millions of web surfers who use popular file-sharing software after June 26 will expose themselves to “the real risk of having to face the music.”

“It’s stealing. It’s both wrong and illegal,” Sherman said. Alluding to the court decisions, Sherman said internet users who believe they can hide behind an alias online are mistaken. “You are not anonymous,” Sherman said. “We’re going to begin taking names.”

In April, the RIAA sued four college students who allegedly offered more than 1 million recordings online, demanding damages of $150,000 per song. The students agreed to pay damages of between $12,000 and $17,500 each and not illegally distribute copyrighted music. The new campaign apparently expands on this earlier effort.

Critics accused the RIAA of resorting to heavy-handed tactics likely to alienate millions of internet file-sharers.

“This latest effort really indicates the recording industry has lost touch with reality completely,” said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Does anyone think more lawsuits are going to be the answer? Today they have declared war on the American consumer.”

Sherman disputed that charge. He said consumers are gradually turning to legitimate web sites, such as Apple Computer’s new iTunes Music Store (see “New online music store could tone down digital piracy,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4432), to buy music legally. As a result, he predicted they will not object to the industry’s latest efforts against pirates.

“You have to look at exactly who are your customers,” he said. “You could say the same thing about shoplifters; are you worried about alienating them? All sorts of industries and retailers have come to the conclusion that they need to be able to protect their rights. We have come to the same conclusion.”

Mike Godwin of Public Knowledge, a consumer group that has challenged broad crackdowns on internet file-sharing networks, said the June 25 announcement was appropriate because it targeted users illegally sharing copyrighted files.

“I’m sure it’s going to freak them out,” Godwin said. “The free ride is over.” He added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some people engaged in file-trading decide to resist and try to find ways to thwart the litigation strategy.”

The RIAA said its lawyers will file lawsuits initially against people with the largest collections of music files they can find online. U.S. copyright laws allow for damages of $750 to $150,000 for each song offered illegally on a person’s computer, but Sherman said the RIAA will be open to settlement proposals from defendants.

“We have no hard and fast rule on how many files you have to be distributing … to come within our radar screen,” Sherman said. “We will go after the worst offenders first.”

The RIAA said it expected to file “at least several hundred lawsuits” within eight to 10 weeks but will continue to file lawsuits afterward on a regular basis.

The group’s announcement is just the latest salvo in the effort to protect copyrights in the digital age. Earlier in June, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sparked a flurry of criticism when he suggested exploring technology that would remotely destroy computers used for illegal file-sharing.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, himself a published song writer, surprised participants in a Senate hearing on copyright issues with his remarks. He said damaging someone’s computer “may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights” and suggested the technology could twice warn users of their illegal activity, “then destroy their computer.”

Some legal experts suggested Hatch’s provocative remarks were more likely intended to compel technology and music executives to work faster toward ways to protect copyrights online than to signal forthcoming legislation.

“It’s just the frustration of those who are looking at enforcing laws that are proving very hard to enforce,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former Justice Department cybercrimes prosecutor.

Links:

Recording Industry Association of America
http://www.riaa.org

Electronic Frontier Foundation
http://www.eff.org

Senate Judiciary Committee
http://judiciary.senate.gov

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Construct top-notch current events lessons with “Rebuilding Iraq”

This timely web site from Scholastic Inc. takes students inside post-war Iraq for a look at the issues faced by United States troops and Iraqi citizens as they begin constructing a new future for the region. News, photos, and
analysis of the war’s repercussions and the challenges that lie ahead are accompanied by teacher lesson plans and activities that can be applied to a variety of age levels. Sections include Latest News; A New Government; Humanitarian Needs; During the War; The Path to War; The Country of Iraq; and A Troubled Region. Along the way, students will explore answers to such questions as: Who will decide the future of this war-torn country? What were the factors that led to the war, and what role does the United States now play in helping Iraq establish new leadership?

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Microsoft softens stance on licenses for donated computers

K-12 schools nationwide that receive donated or refurbished computers running the Windows operating system (OS) now can take advantage of a little-known initiative from Microsoft Corp. that lets administrators ensure the machines they’ve received are properly licensed.

The free, online program is the latest attempt by Microsoft to get back within the good graces of its education customers, many of whom had criticized the software giant for taking too tough a stance on its software licensing policy. (See “Lament: Microsoft licensing stance hurts poor schools,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4012.)

Dubbed the Fresh Start for Donated Computers program, the initiative enables K-12 schools that receive second-hand machines without the proper paperwork and/or the original Windows OS to secure software licenses and Windows installation CDs at no cost.

Microsoft estimates more than 2 million donated PCs go unused in schools nationwide because they either have been stripped of their operating systems or were accepted without the proper documentation. “It’s kind of a tragedy to see all of [these computers] piled up and not being used,” said Sherri Bealkowski, head of Microsoft’s Education Solutions Group.

To take part in the program, school technology leaders must log onto Microsoft’s Fresh Start for Donated Computers web page (see link below) and complete a short online application meant to ensure that the request is being made by a bond fide K-12 school.

Upon reviewing the application, the company sends a letter of approval along with the documentation, as well as one copy of the software on CD-ROM for donated computers that no longer have the original Windows OS loaded.

Schools can choose between versions of Windows 98 and 2000, depending on which system best matches the functionality of the donated computer and their technology environment and standards, the company said.

While the program has been up and running since January, many school technology leaders probably are hearing about it for the first time. That’s because Microsoft wanted to break the program in gently to ensure that the online process addressed educators’ concerns.

“We wanted to figure out a way to do this and make it as easy as we could to provide documentation,” Bealkowski said. “A lot of these machines come with no paperwork, no documentation, nothing on them at all.”

So far, the initiative has met with strong approval from educators, many of whom say working with Microsoft hasn’t always been so easy.

“Microsoft’s licensing programs sometimes are as clear as mud,” said Al Green, technology coordinator for Falcon School District 49 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Fresh Start, however, represents a change of heart by the Redmond, Wash.–based software giant, which—as recently as last summer—urged its school customers not to accept donated or refurbished machines unless they came equipped with the proper software licenses.

Green says that wasn’t a realistic demand. A retired Air Force master sergeant, he used to work in a military program that would strip down computers in preparation for donations. “No organization maintains all of the software that comes with these machines,” he said.

Originally, Microsoft had suggested that schools spend $300 apiece on individual software licenses for all donated computers received without proper licensing or functioning operating systems, Green said.

Given the harsh reality of current budget scenarios—and the increased need for donated machines—the potential for these additional costs forced Green to consider switching to an alternative, open-source Linux platform, a move he did not want to make.

Overall, Green said, he favors employing the Microsoft OS in schools because students and educators tend to be more familiar with its functionality and it generally requires less training. However, he said, if Microsoft had continued to take the hard line with its licensing policy, Linux would have been an option.

“I told [Microsoft], when push comes to shove, I can either put a [Microsoft] solution in the classroom or switch to a Linux operating system,” he said. “Just because I didn’t get a piece of paper doesn’t mean the computer didn’t come with an operating system. That was my argument.”

Apparently, someone at Microsoft was listening.

“People were very sincere in their conversations with me,” Green said of his concerns. “Microsoft having come out with this new program is actually a godsend. It certainly makes my job a lot easier. It helps us do the right thing and stay on the right side of the law.”

That was pretty much the same response voiced by Aaron Munter, executive director of the Oregon Educational Technology Consortium (OETC)—a nonprofit group that includes 450 school districts, colleges, and universities throughout the Northwest.

“Microsoft has been an issue in the past when it comes to donated computers,” he said. But “Fresh Start is a really important program. It’s a win-win situation.”

Munter said donated computers have become especially critical for schools throughout the Northwest, many of which are facing budget shortfalls of historic proportions. Given the current fiscal climate, most schools are “not in a position to refuse the technology,” he said.

According to Munter, at least 50 OETC member school districts already have said they plan to participate in the Fresh Start program, with at least another hundred having expressed some interest.

He added that the online approval process greatly reduces the amount of paperwork school districts and technology consortia can expect to deal with in terms of registering their donated computers with the company.

“Overhead in terms of the paperwork hassle is basically nil,” Munter said. That’s a necessary attribute for large consortia, he said, where a single organization sometimes takes on the task of licensing and certifying machines for several member districts.

Microsoft said it’s offering the Fresh Start program as a “good-faith exercise” to its school customers, which means that if a school registers a computer on the site, the company trusts the original OS for that machine was purchased legally, Bealkowski said. The program lets education customers who have an existing School Agreement with Microsoft automatically add their donated PCs to the terms of that agreement, enabling them to install new and discounted software on refurbished machines at no additional cost, the company said.

Schools only are required to register donated computers that are equipped with Intel Pentium II processors or older models. Pentium III machines and newer models come equipped with a Windows Certificate of Authenticity sticker, known as a COA, which serves as sufficient documentation for a valid Windows OS license, the company said.

Microsoft said it has been signing up as many as 20 new schools a day since the program went into effect earlier this year. Bealkowski said she expects thousands of schools eventually will sign on.

Links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

Fresh Start for Donated Computers program
http://www.microsoft.com/education/?ID=FreshStart

Oregon Educational Technology Consortium
http://www.oetc.org

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Up to $25,000 to give youth safe places to learn

The Home Depot Foundation gives cash and materials to help provide young people with safe places to play and learn, leadership programs that teach skills through community engagement, and job readiness training. The Home Depot Foundation focuses its support on programs that serve at-risk youth ages 12 to 18. Grants typically range from $5,000 to $25,000. The foundation gives first priority to organizations that have been invited to apply for a grant. However, the foundation also will consider unsolicited requests that match its eligibility requirements. The foundation will consider only one proposal from the same organization in a 12-month period. Applications are reviewed four times per year and are to be submitted online.

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Grants for specific projects related to education

The Educational Foundation of America (EFA) makes grants to qualifying non-profit organizations provides grants for specific projects related to the environment, the crisis of human overpopulation and reproductive freedom, Native Americans, arts, education, medicine, and human services. The Educational Foundation of America was established in 1959 to preserve the lifelong altruistic commitment of its founders, Richard Prentice Ettinger and his wife, Elsie P. Ettinger. Applicants are required to send a Letter of Inquiry as the first step. Check foundation’s the web site for more details.

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New 54 Mbps standard could speed wireless adoption in schools

The final approval of a new wireless standard called 802.11g earlier this month should open the door for further adoption of wireless networks in schools by providing the power to transmit data up to five times faster than had previously been allowed under earlier standards, industry analysts say.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a technology standard-setting body, approved the upgrade June 12, saying the technology—which increases the speed of current 802.11b networks to 54 Mbps (megabits per second) from 11 Mbps—would give existing wireless infrastructures the power to serve up to five times more users than they do in their current capacity.

In the days following 802.11g’s approval, high-tech companies from Hewlett-Packard to Texas Instruments publicly announced new solutions designed around the high-speed standard, which should pave the way for schools and other organizations to transmit multimedia—including video and MPEG files—across wireless networks, a feat that proved difficult under 802.11b’s limitations.

“The official release of the ‘g’ standard allows us to capitalize on our investment in ‘b’ wireless devices, while gathering the necessary capacity to deliver bandwidth-intensive instructional resources more appropriately,” said Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology services at the Plano Independent School District in Texas.

Another 54 Mbps standard, called 802.11a, already existed but was not compatible with .11b devices because it used a different frequency. The .11a standard also has significantly less range and requires the installation of more access points to be successful.

Thanks to its increased reach and wide availability, .11b has emerged as the de facto standard in wireless technology. New 802.11g components will be backwards-compatible with existing .11b devices, so schools and other organizations will not have to replace the infrastructures they already have in place to take advantage of the upgrade.

Analysts say they expect the approval of 802.11g will spark increased interest among educators, many of whom have been weighing the possibility of wireless for some time.

“802.11b already has people excited, but I think 802.11g will whip them into a frenzy,” said Keith Waryas, research manger for wireless business network services at industry analysis firm IDC, which predicts 23 percent of wireless equipment sold this year and 53 percent sold next year will use .11g technology.

In combination with the hard-wired infrastructures many schools already have in place, Waryas said the evolution of the 802.11 standard should give schools the ability to augment and enhance their networks for better effect.

“Schools probably will find a lot of value adding wireless components to their existing networks,” he added. “Once you increase the bandwidth, you begin to find that you can do things you’ve never been able to do before.”

Although the full potential of the .11g standard won’t be felt immediately, it will become increasingly clear as schools begin to use more robust, bandwidth-hungry applications—such as video and voice over wireless internet protocol (IP), Waryas said.

Still, as schools struggle to make do with sharply limited resources in light of state budget crises, some educators contend it will be a while before wireless networks move any further up on the technology agenda.

“We are not yet investing in wireless technologies because of the cost in an extremely tight budget era,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Unified School District in California.

Liebman praised the notion of a faster, stronger wireless alternative, but he said many schools lack the money to consider such innovations now. “It would not be politically feasible to lay off employees, reduce student programs, and expend monies for a conversion to wireless technology,” he said. “Unfortunately, I believe that [we are] not alone among school districts.”

However, if schools can scrape together enough funds to begin building wireless networks, IDC’s Waryas suggests a small investment now could translate into huge savings later.

Unlike hard-wired networks, where the costs of laying cable alone can put substantial strain on school budgets, the cost of integrating wireless solutions into existing networks is relatively cheap, Waryas explains. Wireless access points, which even at the high end can be purchased for less than $1,000 apiece, are far less expensive than the costs associated with running cable from room to room.

“It’s an unbelievably cheap way to set up a network,” Waryas said. “You don’t have to lay a lot of fiber to do it. It’s great for schools on extremely limited budgets.”

Security and reliability are among the other issues keeping schools from adopting wireless technologies. Some educators experimenting with wireless have warned that although the lure of ubiquitous computing is tempting, wireless networks generally are more vulnerable to cyber attacks than their hard-wired counterparts because information is transmitted through the air as opposed to across wires.

Even in Plano, where school officials plan to take advantage of new .11g components, Hirsch said hard-wired networks have their advantages.

“A … hard-wired infrastructure is, of course, still required,” he said. “We plan to continue to provide hard-wired capability to each classroom in addition to wireless access points to provide reliable, high-capacity points of delivery in schools—something wireless will continue to lag behind on.”

Links:

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
http://www.ieee.org/portal/index.jsp

IDC
http://www.idcresearch.com

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Cash or product donations from Dow Chemical Co.

Each year the Dow Chemical Co. supports many school districts/school boards and efforts in and around communities in which Dow is located wit cash or product donations, research grants, in-kind services, or volunteered times. Dow prioritizes its areas for K-12 education funding to: math and science; teacher training; and parental involvement. Dow further categorizes the qualified K-12 programs to: national, state and local programs that benefit Dow communities; programs that promote systemic education reform in math and science; and school districts and school boards, rather than individual schools.

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Why Oracle vs PeopleSoft has ed tech edgy

As business software maker Oracle Corp. presses on with its $6.3 billion bid to swallow rival firm PeopleSoft Inc., several PeopleSoft customers—including large school districts, universities, and state education agencies—fear the maneuver could disrupt their operations and ultimately cost them millions of dollars to convert their systems.

Although one high-ranking Oracle executive told the Associated Press (AP) the company no longer would sell PeopleSoft products if the deal goes through, he insisted Oracle would support PeopleSoft products “for a long time.” Many PeopleSoft users, however, are skeptical of such claims.

Underscoring their fear, Connecticut’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against Oracle on June 18 to scuttle the takeover. The state has spent $80 million to upgrade its human resources and payroll systems using PeopleSoft software—and if Oracle takes over and discontinues the PeopleSoft product line, it would cost the state tens of millions of dollars, Gov. John Rowland said.

Connecticut is one of 15 states that reportedly use PeopleSoft’s software to manage human resources, accounting, and purchasing throughout their agencies. PeopleSoft also says its software is used by more than 650 higher education customers and at least 30 large K-12 districts, including the Boston, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, and District of Columbia schools.

Bill Monroe, chief of operations for the Texas Education Agency, said his department has invested close to $10 million in PeopleSoft’s Financial Management for Education and Government package since 1997.

“The only potential we see is downside potential,” he said of Oracle’s takeover bid. “We see no upside potential.”

If Oracle were to take control of the company and phase out the PeopleSoft brand, as some insiders have suggested, Monroe estimated it would cost his agency at least $3 million to transition its technology infrastructure over to Oracle solutions—a weighty proposition as Texas struggles to pull itself out of an estimated $10 billion budget hole this year.

Monroe also said a major technology overhaul has the potential to wreak havoc on the agency’s complicated computer system, which supports more than 4 million Texas students. State agencies probably would be forced to retool several of their technology initiatives while dealing with the possibility of serious project disruptions and other technology “hiccups,” he said.

Uncertainty abounds

Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison sent shock waves throughout the industry when he announced his original $5.1 billion takeover bid on June 6, just four days after PeopleSoft announced plans to acquire Denver-based J.D. Edwards and Co. in a stock swap valued at $1.7 billion.

On June 18, Ellison raised his bid to $6.3 billion in a push to overcome PeopleSoft management’s opposition to the deal. But PeopleSoft’s board of directors rejected this sweetened offer as well. They said joining with Oracle would be difficult, if not impossible, because regulators would raise too many questions about how the deal would affect competition in the $20 billion business software market.

Oracle currently ranks as the second-largest provider of business software behind Germany’s SAP.

Industry analysts also say PeopleSoft executives—many of whom defected from Oracle—would bristle under Ellison. Oracle and PeopleSoft have long had an acrimonious relationship, marked by sniping between Ellison and PeopleSoft chief executive Craig Conway, who worked under Ellison from 1985 to 1993.

PeopleSoft filed a lawsuit in California state court alleging the bid is a “sham” offer designed to destroy the company. J.D. Edwards also sued Oracle, seeking $1.7 billion, plus unspecified punitive damages, for trying to interfere with its PeopleSoft deal.

Oracle called the suit “frivolous.” It has filed a suit of its own in Delaware against PeopleSoft, its board of directors, and J.D. Edwards citing “their collective efforts to eliminate PeopleSoft shareholders’ ability to accept Oracle’s tender offer.”

It remains unclear exactly how PeopleSoft’s 5,100 customers would fare in a takeover. Large clients such as government agencies, city school systems, and Fortune 500 corporations spend millions of dollars to install proprietary business software. Switching can become a costly, technical morass.

Jeff Henley, Oracle’s chief financial officer, told AP that Oracle would not eliminate the PeopleSoft brand but also would not offer PeopleSoft products to new clients.

“We intend to support these products for a long time,” Henley said. He added that PeopleSoft’s consulting projects would “naturally wind down” over the next nine to 12 months but that Oracle would support such projects as long as they exist.

The quality of support could become an issue, however, because Ellison has been quoted as saying a large number of PeopleSoft personnel would be lose their jobs in the wake of a merger.

Regardless of the ultimate fate of PeopleSoft’s software and staffing, the legal machinations on both sides of the conflict—and the uncertainty they foster—promise to make the jobs of ed tech software purchasers even more challenging in the next few months.

“It kind of shook us all up when this started happening. There’s tons of unknowns out there,” Betty Brugger, director of information technology management systems at Illinois’ Northwestern University, told the news service Reuters.

To make matters worse, industry experts say the Oracle-PeopleSoft-J.D. Edwards intrigue could be just the latest in a string of software industry shakeups to come. The prospect of Oracle, already the world’s second-largest software maker, becoming even bigger seems certain to trigger another wave of deals among other major players trying to protect their turf, they say.

“There will be a domino effect,” predicted Paul Birch, chief executive of business software maker Geac Computer Corp. “There has to be more consolidation. It’s a sign of a maturing industry.”

Links:

Oracle Corp.
http://www.oracle.com

PeopleSoft Inc.
http://www.peoplesoft.com

J.D. Edwards and Co.
http://www.jdedwards.com

SAP
http://www.sap.com

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$20.5 million to inform parents about their school choice options

The Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRC) provides $20.5 million to help eligible entities focus on assisting the parents of children who attend schools identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Eligible applicants include non-profit organizations, or consortia of non-profit organizations, and local educational agencies (LEAs). LEAs alone are not eligible to apply for funding. The PIRC program supports school-based and school-linked parental information and resource centers that: (1) Help implement effective parental involvement policies, programs, and activities that will improve children’s academic achievement; (2) Develop and strengthen partnerships among parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel in meeting the educational needs of children; (3) Develop and strengthen the relationship between parents and their children’s school; (4) Further the developmental progress of children assisted under the program; (5) Coordinate activities funded under the program with parental involvement initiatives funded under section 1118 and other provisions of the ESEA; and (6) Provide a comprehensive approach to improving student learning, through coordination and integration of federal, state, and local services and programs. The department expects to award 40 grants ranging from $200,000 to $700,000.

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$1.8 million to help spark disabled youths’ interest in high-tech jobs

The Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy will award $1.8 million to assist states in implementing the High School/High Tech (HS/HT) program on a statewide basis. HS/HT is a career development program designed to provide high school aged youth with disabilities with an opportunity to explore careers or gain further education that may lead to technology-related careers. These programs, which have generally been locally directed and supported, serve both in-school and out-of-school youth with disabilities in a year round program of corporate site visits, mentoring, job shadowing, guest speakers, after school activities and summer internships. Eligible applicants for these grants include State Workforce Investment Boards; State Departments of Education; State Departments of Labor; State Developmental Disability Councils; State Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation; or State Committees affiliated with the National Governors’ Committees for People with Disabilities, and other similar state agencies. The Department expects to award up to eight competitive grants of approximately $225,000.

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