Copyright cops target workplace, schools

The recording industry is on the warpath. After clobbering Napster in the courtroom, it's trying to strike down music piracy at its perceived sources: The workplace and the college dorm room.

Napster, which had more than 60 million users at its peak, was run from central servers, making it fairly easy to shut down. The newest peer-to-peer (P2P) file-swapping services such as Kazaa, Grokster, and Morpheus store files only on members' PCs. Without central servers, these companies are harder to crush.

The Recording Industry Association of America Inc. has entered another legal battle over copyright infringement, this time against the trio of P2P services. The RIAA requested a speedy ruling, and both sides have filed for summary judgment.

For now, the music keeps on streaming, and the RIAA estimates that more than 2.6 million files are copied illegally every month. It should be noted that the music labels do not hold the copyright on everything on Kazaa; sometimes independent or less-known artists and labels post their own files to distribute and draw attention to their work.

Target: The Cubicle

The RIAA, the Motion Picture Association of America Inc., and similar groups have stepped up their antipiracy efforts, writing to Fortune 1000 firms urging them to do whatever it takes "to ensure that their networks are not being misused to infringe copyrighted works."

Most music downloaders use high-speed Internet connections to access P2P services. While only 16 percent of homes have these high-speed connections, 57 percent of all employees can use one at work, says a recent report from Jupiter Media Metrix Inc., an Internet and new-technology research firm. By 2005, Jupiter predicts, this will increase to 87 percent of all employees.

Last April, the RIAA settled a lawsuit for US$1 million with Integrated Information Systems, a high-tech company that ran a server allowing its employees to access and distribute thousands of MP3 files over the corporate network.

Some companies already have policies in place. Fortune 500 member Dell Computer Corp.'s code of conduct forbids employees from pirating music and software at work, according to a Dell representative.

Once a year, Dell-owned PCs are scanned for illegal files. If downloaded music is found on employees' systems, they get the opportunity to erase the files. Machine privileges could be taken away, and disciplinary action is addressed on a case-by-case basis. The Dell spokesperson was not aware of anyone losing a job as a result.

The company plans to send an e-mail to employees reminding them of P2P policies and encouraging them to follow the same guidelines at home.

The RIAA is now urging all companies to implement similar employee policies and technical measures to "eradicate digital piracy." The letter suggests corporations install Internet filtering software.

Eavesdropping Efforts

Some companies are turning to monitoring programs or are implementing other mechanical restrictions on PC use. Half of the Fortune 500 subscribes to a service from Websense Inc., which provides employee Internet management software, according to the company.

The software blocks designated Web sites, says Kian Saneii, vice president of business development. Websense has 18,000 customers worldwide, ranging from medium to large companies and even government agencies. Fees depend on volume, but are about $10 to $15 per user.

Music downloading affects employee productivity and has legal implications for businesses, Saneii says. It also uses computer resources in ways the business doesn't intend and creates security risks, such as P2P worms that target file-sharing networks. Beginning in January, Websense will offer software to block P2P programs on the desktop.

Courts have ruled it is legal for companies to monitor employee use of business equipment, but they encourage the companies to let their employees know.

Target: College Dorms

The recording industry association has another prime battlefield in the music piracy war: academia. They sent a letter to 2300 college presidents in October, pushing the schools to "inform students of their moral and legal responsibilities to respect the rights of copyright owners" when using the universities' networks.

Six higher education associations have joined in the effort, urging college campuses to set rules against illegal online piracy. In a separate letter, they encourage universities to reexamine their existing copyright policies, taking into account P2P software, says John Vaughn, executive vice president of the Association of American Universities.

"These institutions are so heterogeneous there's no one policy that would be optimal for all," says Vaughn. "It would be a mistake to adopt a single policy to apply across these institutions."

The digital civil liberties group Electronic Privacy Information Center sent its own letter after hearing of the RIAA's efforts. EPIC urges universities to take care in restricting student activities online, calling surveillance "incompatible with intellectual freedom."

However, a number of schools are willing to take action because they consider the issue a matter of respecting copyright. Schools must assess their students' computer usage and determine what steps should be taken because the problem is "growing in severity and intensity of use," says Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education.

Willing to Cooperate

For example, American University in Washington, D.C., recently limited use of P2P software on university computers and systems of the university's network. At times, more than 1000 people used P2P software daily, says Eric Weakland, director of network security. As a result, Web sites loaded slowly and students had trouble accessing e-mail from off campus.

"We are now limiting [P2P file-swapping] usage because our Internet connection became unusable," says Weakland, who installed traffic-shaping hardware that restricts the amount of bandwidth the program can use.

The University of North Carolina developed its guidelines four years ago in response to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which outlaws any technology that protects digitally recorded material from illegal access. The law comes up for review with the copyright office in November.

"As an educational institution we are concerned about intellectual property," says Jeanne Smythe, the university's director for computing policy. "Protecting it goes hand in hand."

Coaxing, Not Courts

In the last two years, the RIAA has sent about 1300 notices to the schools whose students make their music collections available for file sharing. The RIAA has never sued a university, because the schools are typically responsive to its requests, a spokesperson says. The RIAA expects to continue to rely on the schools to enforce the law.

UNC investigates offenses involving copyright of music, video, and images every week, a university spokesperson says. Punishments include removal from the network, community service, and suspension from school.

Amy Ginther, of the University of Maryland, says her school receives up to 20 complaints of copyright infringement because of online file sharing each month.

UNC and the University of Maryland have yet to suspend a student for this offense. Students typically stop after the first warning, officials say.

"The cooperation that students express [when caught file sharing] tells me that there's some awareness of the infringement they are engaging in," says Ginther. "They know they are getting something for nothing."

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