Schools Enlisted to Stop Students’ File-Sharing

Posted August 5, 2010 in Internet Law by Arthur Buono

The music industry now has a new ally to stamp out music file-sharing. The 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) requires colleges to inform students that illegal file-sharing is, well, illegal. Schools must also implement technological deterrents to illegal downloads. Whether this will put a dent in the practice remains to be seen. As one student says, it’s game on.

  • File-sharing a favorite way to distribute music, video, illegally
  • Music industry has won millions in fines against individuals
  • Colleges told to bring students in line or face penalties


2008 Education Act Requires Schools to Crack Down

Under section 488 of the HEOA, colleges must, as part of a slew of other disclosures to students, do three things. One, colleges must tell kids that unauthorized downloading and file-sharing of copyrighted material is bad, illegal. Two, colleges must summarize for students the penalties for violating federal copyright laws. Three, colleges must describe their policies against this sort of thing, including what they will do to students who break the law using the school’s computer systems. There. Now that should stop these hijinks once and for all.

Just to be safe though, the law also requires schools to adopt technology-based deterrents to file-sharing. Many already have these in place. Some schools have installed software to block file-sharing over the schools’ networks. These technical fixes raise interesting concerns of their own. For instance, the University of California system’s privacy policies prohibit monitoring of students’ computers. The university has less intrusive deterrents. The school will restrict the student’s internet access when informed the student has violated a copyright.

The HEOA uses a carrot-and-stick approach too. Schools must provide students with alternatives to illegal file-sharing. No word on what that might be. Existing law already imposes stiff fines for unauthorized downloading. Courts have fined some violators hundreds of thousands of dollars. If that’s not enough it’s hard to see how the disclosures will change things. As one student busted last year for file-sharing over school computers notes, "people will always find a way around things." The student, and presumably his illegal file-sharing, has moved to off-campus housing.

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