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Colleges making dent in campus P2P

An alliance that includes the Recording Industry Association of America and universities says it is making progress in educating students about file swapping.

Colleges and the entertainment industry have made considerable progress toward turning back the file-swapping tide on university campuses, representatives of both groups said Tuesday.

From teaching incoming freshmen about the legal and ethical issues of file trading to starting up trial projects offering campus-sponsored digital music services, colleges are beginning to make inroads against student copyright infringement, representatives of a year-old education and entertainment industry alliance said. The group, dubbed the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities, includes universities, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

"There is phenomenally greater awareness of the nature of this problem," said Graham Spanier, president of Penn State University and co-chairman of the joint committee, on a conference call. "There is much greater acceptance among university administrators that we need to be part of the solution, rather than standing on the sidelines and watching it unfold."

The effort to educate students, as well as enforce copyrights on campus networks, has been a key priority for record industry and Hollywood studio executives since the rise of file-swapping networks. Students often have free or inexpensive access to speedy campus networks, and have historically been among the most active members of peer-to-peer communities.

Now, a year after the formation of the joint education and copyright industry task force, several initiatives aimed at reducing file trading on college campuses are underway. Education efforts outlining the legal dangers of using file-swapping services such as Kazaa are targeting many students this fall, task force representatives said.

On the education side, many colleges are highlighting rules against using school networks to upload or download copyrighted files in direct e-mails and orientation sessions. Those messages have been underlined by considerable publicity around lawsuits filed against college students, four last spring, and the impending threat of further RIAA lawsuits against potentially thousands of individual computer users, many of whom are likely to be on college campuses.

Members of the committee also said that efforts are moving ahead to create authorized campus music services, essentially subsidizing students' legal access to music in much the same way some campuses provide cable TV in dorm rooms. As reported earlier, campuses are negotiating with services such as Napster and RealNetworks' Rhapsody to create trial projects offering students access to legal digital music in hopes of competing with the file-swapping networks.

Spanier said he expected to see close to a dozen trial projects of this kind of on-campus service, possibly paid for by student fees, in universities around the country beginning in early 2004. Penn State is likely to be one of those schools, although business and technology-focused negotiations are still underway, he said.

Increasing numbers of colleges are also using technological means from companies like Packeteer or Audible Magic to block or slow data traffic on their networks associated with file-swapping applications. The joint committee is in the process of reviewing those technologies, and will issue a report for universities soon, the group said.

Executives from the recording and movie industries praised the efforts that campuses have been making over the past year, saying they have helped in making the issue an important one on campuses.

"These are the future generations of music buyers, and the people who love music," RIAA President Cary Sherman said. "It's a very important place for us to be."