Colleges uncomfortable in role of intellectual-property police

By Dawn C. Chmielewski Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) SAN JOSE, Calif. _ The nation’s colleges have quietly succumbed to pressure from the entertainment industry to crack down on student use of file-sharing networks to trade music and movies. But many educators are ambivalent about being forced into the role of intellectual-property police. They worry that universities, fearful of being slapped with a Napster-like suit for contributing to copyright infringement, have become so aggressive they’re compromising intellectual freedom on campus. Since October, when the recording industry urged 2,300 college presidents to treat online music piracy as they would the theft of a textbook from the campus bookstore, universities have responded with a vigor that makes some educators uncomfortable. The entertainment industry escalated its efforts last week, putting corporations on notice they could be sued if their networks were found to be harboring copyrighted work. Many universities consider downloading a movie or song a potential honor court violation that, on first offense, can lead to temporary termination of a school Internet account, and, in the instance of repeated violations, suspension or expulsion. Other schools like Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley treat the use of file-sharing networks as a resource management issue. They impose technological impediments, such as throttling Internet speeds to dorm rooms, to discourage swapping music and movie files _ and crack down on bandwidth hogs. Universities respond swiftly to notices to remove a particular song or movie from the campus network. Not one has followed the lead of Verizon, an Internet service provider, that has gone to federal court to fight a Recording Industry Association of America subpoena, seeking the name of one of its subscribers. “My job, as an information security person, is to try and protect the institution,” said Cedric S. Bennett, Stanford’s director of information security services. “Sooner or later, somebody’s going to go after an institution. And Stanford would be a big target.” Penn State, Stanford and others warn incoming students, as part of orientation, that trading music, films and other copyrighted works over the Internet is a crime. They spell it out again in the “terms of use” policy every student signs before they receive access to the campus network. “We try to do it the right way. We’re trying to say you cannot violate copyright _ not that you can’t use Kazaa. You can’t steal other people’s intellectual property,” said Jack McCredie, UC-Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor of information technology. `It doesn’t matter whether its music or video or somebody else’s term paper.” Students who, despite warnings, load Kazaa, iMesh or any other popular file-trading software onto their computers, are typically given one opportunity to get caught _ and clean up their act. Consider the fate of Steven Goldstein, who was temporarily booted from San Jose State University’s network last month for offering a Rob Zombie track _ and 246 other songs and movies _ on the Kazaa file-sharing network. The school refused to restore his access until he signed a letter, acknowledging that trading copyrighted works without the creator’s express permission violates the law. “If I didn’t sign ?I would not have Internet access at all,” said Goldstein, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in business management, but still lives on campus. Record labels and movie studios hire detection firms like NetPD and MediaForce to scour underground networks. These firms use search tools to hunt for unauthorized copies of a song or movie, then record as much information as possible about each suspected user, including the time, date and, in some instances, the unique Internet Protocol address of the computer. Then they send a “notice and take-down order,” which notifies the school or Internet provider to remove the alleged infringing work from its system. It’s a process outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gives Internet providers and colleges immunity from prosecution but an obligation to turn over copyright abusers if they’re found. “We would, from day to day, send out 1,000 DMCA notifications a day,” said one source familiar with the process. “Maybe 20 to 30 percent of the notifications are going to universities.” Some in academic circles are wary of being asked to do the entertainment industry’s enforcement work. Penn State’s vice provost for information technology, J. Gary Augustson, said university attorneys have asked the labels why they didn’t simply sue students for copyright infringement. “The RIAA said they don’t want to file suit against their customers, they wanted us to do it. Talk about chutzpah,” Augustson said. Other academics worry that, in taking disciplinary action against students accused of copyright infringement, the schools start down a slippery slope of assuming responsibility for their conduct. “The minute you agree you’re responsible, you have no alternative but to monitor,” said Virginia Rezmierski, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “A, you can’t do it. And B, … it’s absolutely destructive to the university, because it creates a chilling environment when we want to have an environment of openness and creativity.” Warnings and technological-counter measures appear to have done little to deter use of file-sharing networks, according to technology vendors and students alike. Students are unlikely to change their behavior until they are presented with a viable alternative to stealing. “The students are saying, `OK. I’m going to break the law. What are they going to do to me?”‘ said Berkeley’s McCredie. “Until we get a right solution to this, it’s just going to be two sides against each other, and a lot of us in the middle.” ___ ‘copy 2003, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Visit Mercury Center, the World Wide Web site of the Mercury News, at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.