P2P legislation forcing university IT to get tough on piracy

Compliance with new P2P legislation proving costly for IT teams at the nation's colleges and universities

New legislation is putting pressure on US colleges and universities to do a better job combating illegal file-sharing -- and it's taking a toll on campus IT departments, according to research published this week.

A law passed by US Congress and signed into law by President Bush in August requires the nation's 4,400 public and private colleges and universities to address the issue of illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing of digital content on campus.

Buried in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 are requirements that campuses inform students that illegal distribution of copyrighted materials, such as music and movies, is subject to criminal and civil penalties. The law requires college and university management to certify to the US Secretary of Education that they have developed plans to "effectively combat" illegal P2P.

The new law also strongly encourages the use of technical measures to monitor and block illegal P2P, which some observers in academia expect the U.S. Department of Education will make a mandatory requirement during the next year.

Beyond trying to stop illegal P2P activity by students on campus networks, the new law suggests colleges and universities ought to be licensing digital music services, such as those from Napster, for students.

"The legislation is explicit that campuses are expected to offer an alternative to P2P piracy by licensing a music service such as Napster," says Kenneth Green, founding director of the Encino, Calif.-based Campus Computing Project (CCP), which since 1990 has studied the role of information technology in American higher education. If this becomes a requirement next year, campuses can expect to pay "six figures" for the kind of licensing envisioned under the legislation, a provision supported by such trade groups as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

While Green doesn't deny that illegal P2P file-sharing occurs on college campuses across the country, he adds that MPAA and RIAA (which successfully lobbied Congress to get the P2P file-sharing provisions into the 2008 bill) are overstating the problem.

This week the CCP published a survey of 321 colleges and universities to see how they're handling P2P piracy issues. The survey, titled "The Campus Costs of P2P Compliance," also draws on data from CCP's annual, broader 2007 survey of IT on campus.

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