Frat parties and free music have been among the perks of attending college in the United States during the past decade. But now the days of using fat campus bandwidth to download movies and music via file-sharing networks appear to be coming to an end.
Thursday is the deadline for colleges and universities that receive Title IV federal aid to have implemented antipiracy procedures on their campuses as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008.
HEOA, which was backed by the movie and music industries, addresses a lot of different facets of higher education, but tucked in there are provisions that require schools to adhere to guidelines on illegal file sharing. They include:
Providing students a description of copyright law and campus policies with regards to violations of copyright law.
Combatting copyright violations on campus networks using technology-based deterrents.
Offering alternatives to illegal downloading.
In the past year, schools across the country have tried to comply by implementing new procedures and technologies.
At the University of Kansas, for instance, once campus officials receive a notice that accuses a student of illegally sharing music or movies, they suspend Web privileges for that student.
"The University accepts and responds to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices," KU officials wrote on its Web site. "Upon receipt of a DMCA notice from a business that has traced unauthorized use of its copyrighted materials back to University servers, the University detects the user at the particular University electronic address indicated, examines the activity at that address, and contacts the individual. Until the situation has been corrected, the user's access to the Internet and to University electronic information resources is disabled."
At some schools, first-time offenders can receive written warnings or be required to meet with school officials. At schools such as Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and the State University of New York at New Paltz, repeat offenders can lose Web access entirely and face expulsion, according to a story in the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said that many schools were already cracking down on piracy, but some schools dragged their feet. HEOA pushes them into action, he said.
"It's the first time ever in the history of dealing with the issue that Congress is holding schools accountable and requiring them to address the problem," Sherman said. "Here you have Congress saying 'Get off the sidelines and deal with the problem.' It's an important signal."
In the past, some college administrators refused to go along with requests for help by the RIAA and film industry because they believed it shouldn't be their responsibility to enforce copyright. Some also argued that school resources were better served elsewhere.
College campuses are really the birthplace of file sharing. When Napster came out, it was university students, likely to be more tech savvy and have Internet access, who helped get the word out about the pioneer service.
Estimates about the level of music piracy at the nation's colleges have ranged anywhere from 25 percent of all students to half.
Meanwhile, LimeWire, the most used peer-to-peer software among file sharers, is facing extinction. A U.S. district court in Manhattan is considering whether to issue a permanent injunction against Lime Wire, the company that operates the service, which would effectively shut it down. The Recording Industry Association of America filed a copyright complaint against Lime Wire in 2006.
BitTorrent is another popular file-sharing technology but campuses have become adept at blocking the ports torrents favor. As for sites that allegedly stream pirated content over the Web, these are also under pressure.
On Wednesday, federal law enforcement officials seized nine sites in question and confiscated assets belonging to the site operators. Those sites included Movies-Links.tv, Now-Movies.com, TVShack.net, Filespump.com, Planetmoviez.com, ZML.com, ThePirateCity.org, Ninjavideo.net, and NinjaThis.net.