Incoming freshmen at colleges across the U.S. are getting a primer this month in an unexpected subject: The legal ramifications of file sharing.It's high time universities take IP theft seriously. I see this though and it makes me wonder:
It's a clear sign that last year's Recording Industry Assn. of America initiative to work with U.S. colleges and universities on combating campus peer-to-peer piracy is bearing fruit.
During a conference call Sept. 2, the co-chairmen of the Joint Higher Education and Entertainment Group cited as a sign of progress the P2P education and enforcement policies initiated this year by university administrators across the country. The joint group kicked off last December.
Recent newspaper stories have documented freshman orientation programs that include P2P policies and warnings at several universities, including American University in Washington, D.C., and many University of California campuses.
In addition, Colby College, University of Denver, Stanford University, University of Utah, Columbia University, University of Rochester, University of North Carolina and Harvard and Yale have instituted education initiatives or e-posted campus P2P policies.
"Just a year ago, you didn't see these efforts," says group co-chair Graham Spanier, president of Penn State University. "The progress in charting solutions and in awareness has been dramatic in recent months."
Spanier shares chairman responsibilities with RIAA president Cary Sherman. The two attribute greater campus awareness of the issue to better communication between the RIAA and higher-education institutions.
But certainly the greater responsiveness has been motivated in large part by the RIAA lawsuits this spring, some of which were directed at students on college campuses. At least 10 universities have been served with subpoenas calling for the identity of egregious infringers.
"Universities don't want their students to be sued," Spanier says. "We're working hard to prevent that. We're also sympathetic to the losses in the music industry."
Sherman said he is gratified by the attention copyright violations are getting on campuses. "There's a world of difference this year just a year ago in terms of the seriousness universities are taking this issue," he says.
Spanier says that at Penn State, which has a student body of 83,000, the policy is to warn a student twice about what officials consider serious infringement, and, if it occurs again, "we shut them off." Further violations could lead to expulsion."Could lead to expulsion?" The theft of IP means one does not have respect for the principle that ideas are property. How can such a fundamentality corrupt view be so tenderly punished? I suspect Penn State is showboating. If it were really serious about IP theft, it would expel students on the second violation, no questions asked.