Despite evidence that sharing music and movies online remains popular, a report issued Aug. 24 by a committee of entertainment industry executives and university leaders says universities have made strides in the past year to curtail online piracy.

The report, submitted to Congress by the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities, highlights steps taken by universities to tackle internet piracy but offers few details of their effectiveness.

The recording industry has sued more than 3,000 computer users since last September in a campaign to stem illegal file sharing. Studies differ as to the effectiveness of the campaign, but at any given moment, there are upward of 4 million people in the United States swapping files online, according to Beverly Hills, Calif.-based BigChampagne, which tracks activity on file-sharing networks.

University software
shuts down swappers

In the annals of the online music wars, the University of Florida might well go down as one of the Recording Industry Association of America’s most loyal allies. ….
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  • The authors of the report did not perform a specific analysis of file sharing at the universities, said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

    So far this year, 185 people at 35 universities were among those snared in the recording industry’s lawsuit campaign, according to the report. Still, the five-page report gave high marks to universities that have made changes meant to discourage file sharing.

    “It’s quite clear that every university has gotten the message that this is a serious issue, and they’re all doing something,” said Sherman, who is also co-chair of the joint committee. “There really has been a fundamental change.”

    Over the past year, several universities have addressed illegal file sharing on campus in different ways.

    To date, at least 20 universities–including Pennsylvania State University, the University of Miami, and Northern Illinois University–have signed deals with Napster 2.0, Ruckus, RealNetworks Inc., and other licensed download services to provide students with discounted downloading or free music streaming. (See “Penn State launches ‘free’ digital music service for students.”)

    Many universities also have made the anti-piracy message a fixture of student orientation sessions. Others, meanwhile, are using technology to filter or block illegal file-sharing activity on their networks.

    A program employed at the University of Florida to block all file sharing has had the best success, Sherman said. Called ICARUS, the program scans the school’s computer network to ensure that students are not pulling down music or video content using peer-to-peer file-sharing software (see accompanying story). The software soon will be available for licensing at other schools, too, Sherman said.

    Still, even as some colleges are taking steps to curb illegal file sharing, the RIAA has maintained its legal campaign. The group reportedly sued 89 people in March and 69 more in April for allegedly using campus networks to swap files. A handful of students have settled with the music industry for thousands of dollars, according to recent reports.

    The joint committee submitted its report to Congress in advance of hearings by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. The subcommittee hearings are scheduled for September.

    Links:

    Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities

    Report to the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property

    Recording Industry Association of America