The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts February 8, 2008

Download Statistics Prove False

Growing up with computers and the Internet we have come to take this expansive source of information for granted. In 2003, entertainment companies began to sue individuals for “sharing”large amounts of music.

In 2005, the Motion Picture Association of America commissioned a study that stated that 44 percent of the industry’s domestic losses were caused by the illegal downloading of movies by college students. Over Winter Term, this study was proven false; it has been determined that “human error” caused a mistake in the numbers, and the MPAA now blames college students for about 15 percent of the revenue loss.

 But in March 2007, the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group that represents the recording industry in the U.S. and works to enforce copyright laws, began a more intensive new strategy to stop the illegal downloading of music and movies, which includes sending out 400 “pre-litigation” letters each month.  This strategy was one of the results of the MPAA’s report.

The RIAA informs the college of IP addresses that have shared files over the Internet.  The college then determines the individual who corresponds with the IP address and sends them “take-down” notices, which inform them that they have been caught downloading music.  If they do not “take-down” all of their illegally downloaded files from their computers, the college suspends their Internet access for roughly thirty days. 

College junior Maddy Davis-Hayes had a close encounter with this policy. “I got a notice for downloading Jay-Z songs.  But as far as I know, I’ve never downloaded any Jay-Z songs, so I ignored the letter,” Davis-Hayes said.  Her Internet access was then discontinued for two weeks, after which she had to reapply for access.

    Increased pressure to limit students’ ability to download free music and movies has led colleges, like Oberlin, to take more drastic action.  Oberlin College has worked to make individuals on campus aware of the RIAA’s policies and to limit the illegal on-line sharing of copyrighted music on college and university campuses. 

    Though Oberlin has not yet had to release a student’s name, which would permit an outside copyright holder to send out a pre-litigation letter claiming infringement, if it were asked to do so, the College’s chief technology officer John Bucher says that it would. 

“We haven’t had any problems, yet,” Bucher said, adding, “I am proud of Oberlin College students for their response.”          According to Bucher, since their increased advertisement of the RIAA’s policies, the number of “take down” notices that have had to be sent out has drastically decreased.  Last Fall, the college sent out six notices, down from 32 in spring 2007.

On the other hand, long before the RIAA’s more stringent policies, in fall 2004, 46 reports were sent out and the following spring in 2005, 19, ALL indicating that there is not necessarily a direct correlation between the College’s increased efforts and the decrease in “take down” notices. These actions also fail to show that the RIAA’s new policies have helped to catch people. 

There are, of course, loopholes in the system.  First of all, the RIAA is unable to view the file-sharing that stays within the college campus system. The College’s network, like a gated community, cannot be accessed without permission because of firewalls protecting access to the network. 

A senior, who wished to remain anonymous, said that when she first came to Oberlin she was so excited by the discovery of Direct Connect that she downloaded enough music to double the size of her collection.  “Now,” she explained, “I only download within the college network.” 

Well aware of the consequences of downloading music, this student knows that staying within the College’s closed system allows her to continue to download music, movies, and TV shows without worrying about being caught. 

College junior Liam Gordon received a letter from Comcast in his hometown for illegally downloading music, but now uses PeerGuardian, a system that is capable of blocking educational and government spyware.   

The MPAA’s false report caused an increase in suspicion of college students, leading us to be the main target of the RIAA’s efforts but raising a slew of troubling questions. What does it mean to own something, especially when it is not a physical object; what does it mean to own an idea?  Who exactly are we “stealing” from: the record companies or the songwriters and musicians?  Is one more acceptable than the other?  What role should the college play in enforcing copyright laws?  As the first generation to have the power of the Internet, which allows us unfettered access to music and movies, legally or otherwise, it falls to us to discuss, decide and act on the moral implications of downloading these files.

But beginning in 2001, with the destruction of Napster, the ability to access this information was limited.  The initial Napster lawsuit and its ramifications have led to questions of what it means to own something. Both morally and legally, the burden of this question rests in the hands of our generation.

Using the original study as evidence, the MPAA has pressured colleges to work harder to prevent illegal file-sharing, and it has supported legislation currently before the House of Representatives that would force colleges to do so. But the mistake in the report shows that the entertainment industry has unfairly targeted college campuses.


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