- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

Students at Wittenberg University were fed up because the school’s computer network was frustratingly slow, so campus officials last week bought a filter to prevent students from unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted music and movies.

“We got constant calls from students complaining about the speed of the network in our residence halls, and it was because of peer-to-peer traffic,” said Joseph Deck, director of computing services at Wittenberg, a Lutheran school in a working-class, western Ohio town.

Wittenberg and an increasing number of colleges and universities are stepping into the campaign to stop file sharing to protect their computer networks.

Efforts to curb downloading have been carried out largely by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Washington trade group for record labels. The group has sued nearly 3,000 people, including several students, since it began a legal campaign last year to slow file sharing and protect music sales.

Now campus officials are getting involved.

“We are intensely concerned about downloading movies and music impairing the ability of faculty and students to do their academic work,” said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 colleges and universities.

Overloaded campus networks can slow everything from sending e-mail to checking course materials and registering for classes.

More than a dozen colleges have turned to Audible Magic Corp., a Los Gatos, Calif., firm that began marketing a filter in December that blocks copyrighted songs from being downloaded onto networks. The device scans song and movie files and checks each against a database of about 4 million copyrighted works.

If it determines one is copyrighted, the filter blocks a transfer.

File-sharing programs “are really hogs on the network,” said Jonathan Breitbarth, director of computer services at Concordia University, a private Lutheran school in St. Paul, Minn., with 900 students.

A report last month by the General Accounting Office found the fight to stop file sharing costs some schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a survey of 13 colleges and universities, the GAO found two schools have spent more than $250,000 on technical controls to limit the practice.

Concordia spent $10,000 in March to install Audible Magic’s filter, which costs as much as $40,000, depending on the size of a school’s network.

Wittenberg spent $12,000.

Once Concordia installed the filter, it halved the amount of data coming onto its telecommunications network, Mr. Breitbarth said.

Campuses have been hotbeds of downloading activity since Napster emerged in 1999.

Students “are obviously a significant part of the problem because, historically, students have had more time than money and are more likely to devote their time to downloading music,” said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Record labels asked colleges and universities in 2002 to crack down on file sharing, and many schools began warning students about the perils of violating copyright law.

Rather than try to limit file sharing and criminalize the practice, the music industry should find a better way to pay artists whose songs are traded using peer-to-peer networks, said Adam Eisgrau, president of P2P United, which represents peer-to-peer companies such as Grokster and Morpheus.

“Everyone who believes file sharing will stop, please raise your hand,” he said.

“Audible Magic ain’t the answer.”

But high-speed campus networks make downloading movies and music easier, and tech-savvy students have little hesitation in doing so, said Vance Ikezoye, co-founder and chief executive of Audible Magic.

Campuses are worried about their liability when students download, Mr. Breitbarth said, but record labels have stopped short of suing colleges.

The recording industry took aim at college students in March. Of the estimated 3,000 people sued by the recording industry, 158 at 35 colleges and universities used campus networks for file sharing.

Those schools include Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland.

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