- As colleges across the country seek to stem the torrent of unauthorized digital media files flowing across their campus computer networks, students are devising increasingly sophisticated countermeasures to protect their free supply of copyrighted entertainment.
Most colleges have no plans to emulate the Naval Academy, which last week confiscated computers from about 100 students who are suspected of having downloaded unauthorized copies of music and movie files. But many are imposing a combination of new technologies and new policies in an effort to rein in the rampant copying.
“For our institutions this is a teachable moment,” said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education. “This is the time for them to step forward and demonstrate the value of intellectual property.”
Some students may well emerge from educational sessions on copyright laws and electronic etiquette with a higher regard for intellectual property rights. But many of them are honing other skills as well, like how to burrow through network firewalls and spread their downloading activities across multiple computers to avoid detection.
….About 50 students at Cornell were disciplined last year for unauthorized downloading, said Mary Beth Grant, the university’s judicial administrator. All of those cases resulted from letters from copyright holders, because the university does not monitor what students do with their Internet access.
Nor does Cornell consider the trading of copyrighted music files to be among the more serious infractions. Students are typically required to perform a few hours of community service.
“It’s theft and you’re not supposed to steal, but this is different from someone engaging in credit card scams or breaking into a building to steal a computer,” Ms. Grant said. “We’re not in the business of trying to punish a student; we want them to learn from their mistake.”
Indeed, the push from copyright holders for universities to police their networks has raised questions in the academic world about how to instill students with a sense of morality – and a knowledge of the law – about copyrights without intruding on their privacy and free speech rights.