UR is currently negotiating with firms that offer legitimate music downloading services for implementation as early as next semester.This is part of a pilot study of the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities, on which Provost Charles Phelps is a higher education representative. The committee also contains representatives from the entertainment industry.

“The record industry needs to come up with a business model that lets the schools pay a flat license fee for students’ downloading activities – in effect, to tie a music fee into the tuition the same way we license Internet access to read journals from anywhere on campus,” Phelps told USA Today.

The pilot study would not increase student’s room costs this spring, but may increase costs in the future.

“What happens in the future will depend on how the pilot works out,” Phelps said. “We’d discuss any permanent arrangements with student groups first, of course, before making any permanent commitment. In any event, the added costs will likely measure well under one percent of room and board.”

Students are very concerned about the possible tuition increase. “It seems unfair that every student will be charged for this music service, regardless if they download or not,” senior Noah Kuschel said. “They should set up a system where you pay the fee and get a log-in password and such. Besides, whenever a ‘slight increase’ in a fee is instituted, it grows to be anything but slight and is constantly on the increase.” Sarah Kashdan, the PR Committee Chair for the Students’ Association Senate, followed a similar line of reasoning.

“I think it’s a great idea especially because kids who have shared too much music can get their Internet shut down,” she said. Still, questions remain.

“Will this service be applicable to enough people to raise fees across the board?” Kashdan asked.

This project is still in the planning stages.

“What happens will depend a lot on students’ responses to that pilot and from what we learn at similar pilot projects at other campuses,” Phelps said. “I don’t want to identify specific companies while we are in negotiation stage. We have confidentiality agreements with them right now that prevent such statements while we negotiate.”

If and when this pilot project is implemented, it will be available for all students. Participation will not be optional.

“For this program to succeed, it must give students what they want – fast downloads and an exhaustive selection. And if it’s well-written software – which is very hard to find – that is continually updated, and if this service is legal, then we will have a high-demand service,” Students’ Association President and senior Chris Calo said.

“I am curious to know what the structure of this legal music download business will be. I hope it will be not-for-profit. The last thing this industry needs is another company looking to make money off of music.

“With prices where they are and the risk as low as it seems, students will just continue to download free music illegally,” Calo continued.

A discussion of these issues will be held on Friday, Oct. 31 at 2 p.m. at the Interfaith Chapel.

This pilot study brings up the larger issues of copyright infringement and personal privacy. Under current law, UR cannot be held liable for the copyright infringement of students. UR is treated as an Internet service provider.

“Many of our students are systematically violating the law when they share copyrighted files. That leads me to think about educational processes to help students understand the law and hopefully bring their actions into compliance with the law,” Phelps said.

UR currently limits the bandwidth on ResNet for uploading files as a way to preserve access for legitimate academic uses.

“I’m very concerned about the clogging up of our network systems with activities that have no legitimate academic purpose. Particularly high on my list here is the uploading of copyrighted files to others around the world. That just hijacks our investment in network infrastructure for uses that have nothing to do with the missions of the university,” Phelps said.

“Any solutions we bring to bear on the issue, at least on this campus while I’m involved, will do everything possible to protect privacy of communication and information for every member of the academic community.

“For example, some technologies are available that look into the content of ‘packets’ of information sent across the Web and screen out stuff that’s copyrighted music. But that intrusion into the content of the ‘message’ is to me a dangerous step for universities to take,” Phelps continued.Ultimately it is the responsibility of copyright holders to enforce their copyrights.

“They know this too, which is why the Recording Industry Association of America is bringing all of these highly visible lawsuits,” Phelps said. “I don’t think universities should be put in the position of having to enforce the copyrights of others.”

The joint committee is actively soliciting other campuses to participate in pilot studies.

“We need to have lots of participation in these studies to find out what works best,” Phelps said.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction because many students download tons of songs and movies, which clearly violates copyright laws,” Michael Gluskin, a freshman at the University of Maryland, said.

“One of the problems I have is that it seems like universities can participate on an individual basis, so some schools may develop these programs, while others do nothing. The students at the schools who do nothing are more susceptible to getting caught,” Gluskin said.

“Also, for students who do not download anything, they will most likely have to pay a fee as well, into their semester bills, and although the fee was described to me as ‘nominal,’ it still doesn’t seem fair to charge students who are complying with the law.”

The University of Maryland has not yet determined whether it will explore participation in the music service pilot project, according to Amy Ginther of the Office of Information Technology at the University of Maryland.

“As I see it, the only way this service will succeed and gain wide participation is if it meets the high demands of freedom, cost and ease that students have come to enjoy and expect,” Calo said.

Brandon can be reached at ebrandon@campustimes.org.

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