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File-sharers face the consequences


4: The number of college students (from Princeton University, Michigan Technological University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for “massive” digital infringement of copyrights. Settlements ranged from $12,000 to $17,000.

2,500: The number of copyright infringement claims sent monthly by the RIAA to American universities, alleging that one or more music files were being offered to the entire Internet community without permission to do so.

2.6 billion: An estimate of the number of files — music, movies, games, software — being illegally downloaded over the Internet every month by people who do not have permission to do so.

What is the Internet? Some would say it is a “digital copy machine” that can take a song, movie or text of a book and pretty much instantaneously make millions of perfect digital copies sent all around the world. This use of the Internet — trading of copyrighted music, movies, games and software — has become commonplace, using file-sharing programs such as KaZaA or Morpheus. The catch, of course, is that this is often illegal since the people offering such copyrighted materials to others do not have permission to do so.

With possibly billions of dollars at stake, the entertainment industry is aggressively exploring tools — legal, technical and otherwise — to combat digital piracy. So is Congress. In March, members of the House Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet chided universities for not doing enough to curb digital piracy. A congressional Caucus on Intellectual Property Promotion and Piracy Prevention is just being formed. There is a lot of attention being paid to this complex area.

Automated search technology is being used to scan the Internet for acts of copyright infringement, no matter how small. And, most recently, the RIAA’s suit against four students alleging copyright infringement has shown they are willing to take their customers to court.

This should be a matter of significant concern to anyone who engages in such illegal activity. Criminal prosecution and legal action by copyright holders are a reality — and there is little the University of California and UCLA will be able to do to protect copyright infringers.

Further, as the Internet Service Provider to the campus community, UCLA receives monthly dozens of infringement claims about file-sharing. In compliance with both the law and campus policy, UCLA takes action when notified of infringing sites located on the campus network. All of these claims are investigated, incidents of infringement are referred to the appropriate campus officials and appropriate disciplinary actions are levied against those who are intentionally downloading or offering copyrighted materials without appropriate permission.

Of course, the very technologies being used for illegal file-sharing purposes also have an increasing number of exciting, legitimate applications, and research on such uses of these technologies is rapidly growing in the academic community. Keeping a balance between what sometimes feels like competing goals — in addition to considerations of privacy, academic freedom and innovation, all issues fundamental to our institution — will be our continuing challenge.

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