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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Boneheaded battle

    The 14 UA students accused of copyright infringement in March by the Recording Industry Association of America can breathe easier this week: legal complaints have been dropped against all but two of them.

    According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Recording Industry Association of America, notorious for suing thousands of college students for possible infringement using filesharing software, recently dropped its case against ten of the accused students, along with two Wildcats who had already paid to settle their cases. The only lawsuits left are those against two students who filed motions to dismiss their suits in federal court.

    Regardless of the ethics of student actions in the grayscale world of copyright, this week’s dismissal is a victory for one black-and-white principle: Universities shouldn’t be forced to act as copyright cops for private trade organizations. Yet as long as old media fails to respond to new technology, the music and movie industry’s struggle to enlist universities in their crusade against file sharing won’t end any time soon. Consider their track record over the last year:

    In October 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America, the recording industry’s ally in battles against file sharing, sent a customized software suite called the “”University Toolkit”” to 25 universities across the U.S., urging them to install the included applications on their networks. The Washington Post later found serious security flaws with the software, concluding that “”depending on how a university’s network is set up, installing and using the MPAA tool in its default configuration could expose to the entire Internet all of the traffic flowing across the school’s network.”” In a twist of cosmic irony, the toolkit was later removed from the MPAA’s Web site after it was discovered that the software, which was based on several open-source programs, violated copyright law.

    In November 2007, industry lobbyists successfully slipped a provision requiring colleges to monitor student internet access for evidence of file sharing into section 494 of the “”College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007,”” a bill that would otherwise provide a much needed overhaul of federal financial aid. Although legislators and RIAA representatives insist that the language only requires colleges to “”plan”” a way to install network filters and develop software to spy on Internet users, its requirements are still sinister. The bill passed the House in February with the filtering requirements intact, and is awaiting approval in the Senate, despite opposition by the American Council on Education, the biggest U.S. higher-education interest group, and Educause, which represents university network administrators.

    In January of this year, the MPAA admitted that a study the trade group commissioned to determine the prevalence of illegal downloads on college campuses was massively inflated. Although it originally found that college students were responsible for a whopping 44 percent of losses to piracy – a figure that was used to sway legislators and intimidate university administrators – the number was wildly inaccurate. Instead, the study actually found that college students made up perhaps 15 percent of all dastardly downloaders.

    And just this month, the RIAA fired off another 569 “”pre-litigation settlement”” letters to students at 26 different colleges, the biggest wave of letters yet. They give students the option of paying several thousand dollars to settle out of court, or pay even more in a potentially protracted legal battle. They even direct users to a Web site,, that lets users settle online and pay off the record industry with a credit card. RIAA representatives even suggested to one MIT student facing a lawsuit that college students may need to “”drop out of college or go to community college in order to be able to afford settlements.””

    The entertainment industry is out of touch with reality, fighting a bitter and backwards-minded battle against their own customers. We hope they’ll choose to give up the fight and embrace technology sometime soon.

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