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UCLA to stop short of P2P snooping

Though it has system for giving notice to file-swapping students, school will stop short of attaching "digital fingerprints" to files.

LOS ANGELES--The University of California at Los Angeles is using technology to discourage Net piracy of films or music, but it's holding off on playing campus snoop, a school official said Monday at the Digital Hollywood conference here.

As previously reported, UCLA has implemented a technology system to give notice and warnings to students who have been fingered by Hollywood studios or record labels as perpetrators of digital copyright theft.

An implementation of the Automated Copyright Notice System, or ACNS--an open-source notification software--the system lets UCLA instantly send notices of copyright infringement to students by e-mail and restrict their network access until they have removed the offending file.

Meanwhile, other universities and content providers are increasingly embracing technology from Audible Magic and others to attach digital fingerprints to copyrighted works and keep tabs on students' file-swapping--technology backed by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.

"That technology is not attractive to us, because what students are doing is private. But we're encouraging a behavioral shift," Jonathan Curtiss, of UCLA Student Services, said at a panel of educators and technologists discussing entertainment and IT in the university.

Still, Curtiss said UCLA's student surveys during the first month of classes this year revealed that students would rather continue to find a way to steal copyrighted content, because the cost of movies and music is still too high.

Despite efforts by Hollywood to curtail peer-to-peer file-swapping at universities, some IT administrators are excited by file-sharing technology. For example, the University of Southern California, also in Los Angeles, is testing a music file-sharing portal that lets students remix or loop music on a shared network; and the school can do this legally under a creative commons license, according to Todd Richmond, managing director for the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC.

"We're very interested in peer-to-peer technology and the ability of individual computers to seamlessly transfer data around--in a legal way," Richmond said.

Universities are testing several video-on-demand services for their students. Cflix and Ruckus are just two of the companies courting schools with VOD services. USC is also testing a program with Hollywood studio-backed Movielink to make some free downloadable movies available to students in the dorms, Richmond said.

Other technology initiatives at colleges include Duke University's giveaway of Apple Computer iPods to 1,650 freshman, who have access to their class schedules on the devices. USC has also developed a technical specification for allowing students and educators to share information on events with the use of Really Simple Syndication, or RSS.

USC's Richmond also said that next semester the university plans to make wireless access available to classrooms to encourage more participation with Internet access. He said that educators have complained that Internet access has disrupted the classroom experience because students will mindlessly surf the Web and ignore discussion. But he said USC's strategy going forward is to encourage students to log on wirelessly during class and use Google or another search engine to research what professors say and bring more questions to the debate.

"We want wireless uniformity because then someone can Google what the professor says and question it. And this opens a dialogue in class," said Richmond, who added that "professors don't like the idea."

"This is the future and we want to poke people with sharp sticks," Richmond said.