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Privacy group fights P2P crackdown

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is launching a counterattack against Hollywood's efforts to crack down on student file-swapping.

    The Electronic Privacy Information Center is launching a counterattack against Hollywood's efforts to crack down on student file-swapping.

    The privacy advocacy group is sending letters to presidents of colleges across the country, asking them to think before they install monitoring tools on university networks.

    "Monitoring the content of communications is fundamentally incompatible with the mission of educational institutions to foster critical thinking and exploration," EPIC wrote. "Monitoring chills behavior and can squelch creativity that must thrive in educational settings."

    EPIC's effort comes in response to attempts by the entertainment industry to pressure colleges into curtailing file swapping. Last month, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sent letters to more than 2,000 colleges, warning them that students were using school networks to trade illegal file copies. Although the letter did not overtly threaten legal action, it did ask the schools to make a "substantial effort" to stop such trading.

    The entertainment industry has trained its guns on universities because they offer high-speed connections that allow students to quickly obtain and offer files of all types. Students were among the major users of the now-defunct Napster system, which brought peer-to-peer (P2P) into the mainstream, but the company was eventually sued out of business. Several colleges were the target of lawsuits brought by Metallica and Dr. Dre, who claimed the schools allowed people to trade unauthorized copies of their music illegally.

    Colleges also are having to deal with the strains that massive file trading places on their networks. Many administrators fear that massive trading of large files such as movies and games could hobble their networks and leave little room for legitimate school-related activity.

    In its letter, EPIC acknowledged such concerns, but it also warned that stepping up network surveillance could lead to an arms race pitting administrators against increasingly sophisticated software designed to get around the controls.

    EPIC said the entertainment industry proposal would "shift the burden to colleges and universities to devote scarce resources to monitoring online communications and to identifying and 'prosecuting' individuals suspected of using P2P networks to commit copyright violations."