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Studios, RIAA target student piracy

Organizations send letters to 40 universities, urgently asking them to curtail illegal file sharing on their school networks.

The advocacy organizations for the film and music industries on Thursday unveiled their latest initiative aimed at staunching piracy on university computer networks.

To launch the initiative, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sent letters to presidents of 40 universities in 25 states informing them of piracy problems on their schools' local area networks and asking for immediate action to stop it.

The organizations say that college students are increasingly using programs such as Direct Connect (DC++), MyTunes and OurTunes to trade music across their schools' LANs without having to send or receive files across the public Internet.

According to a release issued by the RIAA and the MPAA, campus LANs provide an attractive way to engage in illegal file sharing without being subject to the consequences that come from doing so across the regular Internet.

"Piracy on campuses has been a concern for quite a while, and we have been actively engaged in a number of efforts with universities to get the word out to students," said Gayle Osterberg, an MPAA spokeswoman. "This particular trend or growing problem is something that is a more recent development, and we are working on all fronts to stay on top of all means of piracy and addressing them."

As such, the MPAA and RIAA sent the letters to university presidents in states such as California, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The letters ask the presidents to look at the way students use their institutions' LANs and, where necessary, take steps to halt the theft of music, movies and other copyright content.

Osterberg said that the advocacy groups recognize that they have to address all forms of illegal file sharing and to be proactive in trying to stop it.

"There are probably a range of reasons that people do it in the first place," she said. "That's why it's important your education and outreach (initiatives) have a multipronged approach."

The new program comes on the heels of several others the organizations have undertaken to try to keep students from using their schools' networks to trade music and other content illegally.

Beyond a number of RIAA lawsuits against students, the organizations also have built technology that would make it easier to remove suspected file swappers from campus networks.

In any case, some feel that Thursday's action by the MPAA and RIAA are reflective of the failure of the organizations' strategy of suing file swappers.

"The (music) labels sent a very similar letter to universities about Napster in 1999 or 2000," said Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Here we are, seven years later, and the problem from their perspective is bigger than ever."

Von Lohmann said the EFF's answer is to encourage the MPAA and RIAA and universities to work out a system where the schools pay licensing fees and "let the students do what they're going to do anyway."