In response to illegal file sharing activities on both the UC and CSU campuses, the UC Office of the President recently announced a joint effort to provide their students, faculty and staff legal access to copyrighted material.
According to a news release from the UCOP, the UC and CSU systems have ‘issued a solicitation for proposals from vendors offering online music and movie services.’ The result would be the creation of an interuniversity database of legal, downloadable material.
In theory, such a database will discourage students from downloading and distributing songs and movies without permission from copyright owners, a violation for which the Recording Industry Association of America has sought damages of up to $150,000 per song.
‘The [creation of the database] is still in the developmental process,’ said Abby Lunardini, UCOP director of advocacy communications. ‘What it would entail is the creation of a body that would take into account the program’s cost, its usability for the campuses and its appeal to the students.’
Though details of the program’s final offerings are still sketchy, Lunardini expects the online vendors to be selected by the spring and the program to be implemented by fall 2005.
This collaboration with the CSU is the UC’s latest effort to address the problem of illegal file sharing. According to Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student affairs, UCI has already been regulating nonacademic file sharing activities by limiting bandwidth ‘to keep Internet connection costs down and to enhance the speed of the residential network for educational use.’
To further ensure that copyright violations are kept to a minimum, on-campus networks are monitored for possible infractions.
‘If a notification is received … of a violation within the housing complexes, the network connection is disabled and the user is notified without the presumption of guilt,’ Gomez said.
However, according to Gomez, if a second violation is detected from the same user, ‘the matter becomes a judicial issue that may be resolved within the housing complex or, in a worst-case scenario, referred to the Office of the Dean of Students.’
On the other side of the file sharing debate are people like Robert Garfias, a professor of ethnomusicology in UCI’s Department of Anthropology.
‘My take on [file sharing] is that you really can’t prevent it entirely,’ Garfias said. ‘People want to share, and people want access to information, and the Internet provides all this. It’s almost unnatural, in a way, to try to prevent it.’
Garfias, who uses streaming music samples in his lectures, considers programs like Napster, which now charges a fee for downloads, as ‘important resources,’ especially for accessing music that is outside mainstream American culture.
‘I want to know what’s happening in hip-hop in France because I talk about France in class, or I talk about Chinese or Russian hip-hop,’ Garfias said. ‘How [would] you find that stuff if it [wasn’t] for filesharing?’
Garfias also dispels the common belief that file sharing robs musicians of their hard-earned royalties.
‘Most artists, except for the really big names, don’t get royalties at all,’ Garfias said. ‘Their contracts are written in such a way that they get paid a flat fee for the first recording, and that’s it.’
Many UCI students also disagree with the university’s restrictions on file sharing, but more for reasons of convenience than of principle.
‘A lot of stuff is … not worth the money after you buy it,’ said one student who wished to remain anonymous. ‘With some CDs, you think it’s going to be good … but when you buy it, you think, ‘Wow, this CD is kind of lame. I wish I didn’t just spend 18 bucks on it.”
Since this student lives off campus, he is only marginally affected by any restrictions UCI might place on file sharing, such as restricting access to file sharing programs.
However, even on-campus residents who share files have found ways to circumvent administrative obstacles.
‘I just go home to download bigger things, like movies or albums,’ said one anonymous Arroyo Vista resident.
Garfias has a more philosophical outlook on the issue.
‘If someone owns property, well, it shouldn’t be stolen,’ Garfias said. ‘But that’s what people do. If you leave free napkins in restaurants, some people will go and take them all.’