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Music industry targets colleges over downloads

February 22, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Cracking down on college students, the music industry is sending thousands more complaints to top universities this school year than it did last year as it targets music illegally downloaded over campus computer networks.

A few schools, including Ohio and Purdue universities, already have received more than 1,000 complaints about individual students since last fall -- significant increases over the last school year. For students who are caught, punishment varies from e-mail warnings to semester-long suspensions from classes.

The trade group for the largest music labels, the Recording Industry Assn. of America, identified the 25 universities that received the most copyright complaints it sent so far this school year. The group long has pressured schools to act more aggressively against online pirates on campus.

"It's something we feel we have to do," association President Cary Sherman said. "We have to let people know that if they engage in this activity, they are not anonymous."

The top five schools are Ohio, Purdue, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Tennessee and University of South Carolina. The music group complained about almost 15,000 students at those 25 universities, nearly triple the number for the previous school year.

"They're trying to make a statement," said Randall Hall, who polices computers at Michigan State University, seventh on the list with 753 complaints. Michigan State received 432 such complaints in December alone, when students attended classes for only half the month.

Hall meets personally with students caught twice and forces them to watch an eight-minute anti-piracy DVD produced by the association. A third-time offender can be suspended for a semester.

"I get the whole spectrum of excuses," Hall said. "The most common answer I get is, 'All my friends are doing this. Why did I get caught?' "

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- which received 897 complaints -- first- and second-time offenders receive escalating warnings about piracy. After a third complaint, the school unplugs a student's Internet connection and sends the case to a dean for additional punishment.

Each complaint represents an accusation that a student was identified sharing at least one song over the campus network. Egregious offenders, who make available hundreds or thousands of songs to other students online, are targeted by the music group in expensive civil lawsuits. Unlike lawsuits, complaints are typically sent to colleges every day by e-mail.

The music group said each university should set its own penalty for stealing songs. "When we look at the problem, it's particularly acute in the college context," association Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol said.

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