As the head of one of the University’s most popular film groups – M-Flicks – and with dozens of DVDs sitting on racks right by his desk, LSA senior Kurt Beyerchen would seem like the person you’d least suspect to have downloaded hundreds of films illegally.

Jess Cox

But as a freshman and sophomore, Beyerchen used the peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing service Kazaa, where he could download a movie “in a half-hour and watch it that night.”

The appeal of downloading was certainly evident: “It was a simple way to pass the time and watch movies I would never see – either the ones I wouldn’t buy on DVD or go see in the theater,” he said.

After his roommate was contacted by the University for illegally downloading, Beyerchen decided to change his ways. Beyerchen said the University had been contacted by Universal, which tracked his roommate’s IP address for illegally downloading. “I knew the consequences, but since people weren’t getting in trouble (at first), I wasn’t worried about it. But I knew if I was caught, I could be subpoenaed and face pretty big fines,” he said. “Kazaa isn’t even on my computer anymore,” he added.

With the rise of P2P file-sharing networks, the Internet has become a twisted web for intellectual property theft. And with the escalation of film piracy around campus due to high-speed Ethernet connections, the University has taken notice. “The University prohibits people who use its information technology resources to infringe copyright,” said Jack Bernard, assistant general counsel for the University. “It is a violation of University policy to illegally download or upload movies.”

Bernard said the University, in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is doing a few things to stop piracy and spread the word about its consequences, such as hosting a variety of educational activities on copyright infringement each semester.

One of these events was held in September, where Motion Picture Association of America president and University alum Dan Glickman visited the Law School to lecture on intellectual property protection in the digital age. Before his talk, Glickman sat down with The Michigan Daily to explain more about the current piracy issues at hand and their effects.

In a parallel anti-piracy effort, at least nine University-affiliated individuals were contacted by the RIAA in January of 2004 in conjunction with illegal downloading and settled out of court.

“We estimate the movie industry loses a minimum of about three and a half billion dollars a year to piracy – and that’s mostly just physical piracy and not even piracy over the Internet,” Glickman said.

“Its real impact is not on the blockbusters, but on providing capital for all the other movies that are produced. It has an enormous impact for all of the copyright industries, not just movies.”

One way that the University is combating the practice is through legal downloading services; one of these sites, Cdigix (www.cdigix.com), is partnered with the University. According to Bernard, the service “enables the faculty to bring licensed films and videos to the classroom and CTools (ctools.umich.edu).” The website also offers students personal subscriptions, where they can download TV shows and feature films.

What is clear, though, is that stories like Beyerchen’s seem to be more and more common among students.  One Kinesiology senior, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear, has also stopped downloading movies illegally.  “I used to download movies that I intended to buy or that I wanted to see but wasn’t sure if it was worth the money.  I usually got rid of (the movies) because the quality was so poor,” she said.

While she admitted that downloading movies was convenient because they were free, she ended up stopping for several reasons.  One was that it often took a whole day to download a single movie, and she was afraid that ResComp would shut down her connection for taking up bandwidth.

Another reason is that, like Beyerchen, the news of people getting caught had an effect on her.

“I wasn’t scared when I first started downloading, but the more informed I became, the more scared I got,” the student said.  “I did care about the fact that I didn’t have the money to pay any fines should I get caught and decided the returns weren’t worth the risk.”

As far as downloading legally, the Kinesiology major doesn’t seem interested: “I may one day, but not right now.”

Beyerchen is also apathetic.  “I’d rather just go to Hollywood Video or Blockbuster and purchase pre-viewed DVDs,” he said.  

Yet even with increased national awareness about the consequences and the “educational activities” the University has offered, Glickman believes there’s a lot that all schools can do about piracy.

“I think that universities are uniquely poised to become much more aggressive players in raising awareness,” he said.  

Glickman also thinks that universities can do a better job of offering cost-effective ways for students to download movies.  “If people (have) the option of getting legal material, they are less likely to download (things that are) illegal.  If (the MPAA) finds there is a lot of piracy occurring at these schools, it’s going to be embarrassing for them.”


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