Many file-sharers could be in for a nasty surprise this year with the Recording Industry Association of America increasing the scope of its intimidation campaign to eliminate illegal downloading. While the University lacks the legal grounds to shield its students from litigation, administrators can and should provide students with inexpensive means to obtain music legally.
As much as everyone would like to download music for free, it is illegal in most cases. File sharing generally falls in the same realm. Before copyrighted materials hit the Internet, copying material for personal use was usually understood to be acceptable, but even that is now under attack. The RIAA even wants copying music from your own CDs to be considered an enforceable violation. When a person cannot legally listen to legally purchased music on his iPod there is clearly a serious conflict between the reasonable demands of consumers and the wishes of the RIAA.
Right or wrong, file sharing and illegal music downloading are common on college campuses throughout the country. Thus, we cannot blame the RIAA for making students the primary targets of its fight to stamp out copyright infringement -even if its time would be better spent tracking down the more blatant violators of copyright law.
As it begins sending out letters to college students – 400 per month – the RIAA is threatening legal action against alleged violators unless they choose to settle. Even those who have only engaged in file sharing a few times have become targets. It is making examples of college students. The message is clear: Download and you could be next.
The University can do little to protect its students from the coming storm, because the law is clearly on the side of the recording companies. But as students come to universities, they will inevitably come in contact with new people, music and bands, so it is only natural that they will want to download music. The University has done little to address this obvious reality. It should follow in the footsteps of colleges across the country and provide students with a legal means of downloading music.
Some of this has already been done. University students are currently eligible to use legal free alternatives like Ruckus.com to download their music. However, the limitations involved with that service (music downloaded for free cannot be moved to an iPod) make it an inadequate alternative.
Ruckus is a good start and the University is one of about 100 across the country to use it. But the University could use its considerable size and influence to negotiate for a more complete free download alternative. With the RIAA’s army of lawyers looming on the horizon, now is just the right time for the University to change its tune.