Universities resist RIAA information requests

August 12th, 2008

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article, Antipiracy Campaign Exasperates Colleges, on how Universities are begining to resist increased requests by the RIAA to fight music file sharing.

“Talk to the chief information officer at just about any American university, and he will probably say that his institution has bent over backward to help the Recording Industry Association of America curb illegal file sharing on his campus. He will also tell you he’s angry.

On e-mail lists and in interviews, university CIO’s and other information-technology professionals say their mission is getting derailed and staff time is being overloaded by copyright takedown notices, “prelitigation settlement letter,” RIAA-issued subpoenas, lobbying efforts, and panicked students accused of piracy.

Now, feeling burdened and betrayed, some of those universities are quietly fighting back, resisting requests for information and trying to quash subpoenas. Those that do so, though, find that their past compliance — and the continued compliance of their peer institutions — is being held against them.

“We feel like we’ve been led down the garden path, and our interest in working in partnership and leading our mission as educators is now being used against us,” said Tracy Mitrano, director of IT policy at Cornell University.

For years the entertainment industry and higher education have considered themselves allies in the fight to curb illegal file sharing on campuses, most visibly through the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities Technology Task Force. Over the past year, joint-committee members from universities say tensions have grown, primarily because they feel betrayed by the industry’s lobbying to force filtering technology on university networks.”

Textbook piracy via BitTorrent on the rise

July 2nd, 2008

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on students using BitTorrent to share scanned copies of textbooks. The article, Textbook Piracy Grows Online, Prompting a Counterattack From Publishers, starts off

“College students are increasingly downloading illegal copies of textbooks online, employing the same file-trading technologies used to download music and movies. Feeling threatened, book publishers are stepping up efforts to stop the online piracy. One Web site, called Textbook Torrents, promises more than 5,000 textbooks for download in PDF format, complete with the original textbook layout and full-color illustrations. Users must simply set up a free account and download a free software program that uses a popular peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent. Other textbook-download sites are even easier to use, offering digital books at the click of a mouse.”

Text books are an interesting niche for file sharing. They are surely expensive and publishers manage to publish new editions of popular titles almost every year, undermining the market for used texts. On the other hand, digitizing a text book requires scanning it, which takes time, attention to detail, equipment, and labor. It’s not as simple as ripping a CD.

Update 7/7/08: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a follow up story, Founder of Textbook-Download Site Says Offering Free Copyrighted Textbooks Is Act of ‘Civil Disobedience’

“… But the founder of Textbook Torrents calls his actions “civil disobedience” against “the monopolistic business practices” of textbook publishers. The site’s founder, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of legal action against him, talked to The Chronicle over an Internet phone call last night and defended his creation, though he described it as operating in a “legal gray area.” He said he is an undergraduate at a college outside of the United States, though he would not name the institution or country, and that he operates the Web site from there. His biggest complaint: that textbooks are just too expensive, and that prices climb each year. “We’re showing both students and textbook publishers that this isn’t acceptable anymore,” he said. “A lot of users are absolutely fed up with the system.” He said he views the 64,000 registered users of his textbook-download site as votes against that system.”