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RIAA MPAA Tackle Campus LAN Piracy
April 27, 2006
Thomas Mennecke
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University and college campuses were the genesis of mainstream online music distribution. The rampant pace of information exchange was the catalyst for P2P networking and helped turn Napster into the success it was back in 1999-2000.

Times changed of course and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) decided enough was enough. Through a lengthy litigation process, the RIAA dismantled the Napster P2P network, rendering it useless in November of 2001. Being the ubiquitous hydra that P2P networking is, more advanced communities such as FastTrack and Gnutella resumed Napster’s pace. Despite the demise of Napster, file-sharing continued to prosper under these alternate flags.

Because FastTrack, Gnutella and their ilk are “decentralized” – meaning no central authority controls the content flow of information – the RIAA and the MPAA found it difficult to contain these networks. Even if their ownership or developers were sued or otherwise incapacitated, the networks they created would continue to live on. This lead to the RIAA’s third tactic against P2P – suing individual file-sharers.

The RIAA began suing individual file-sharers in June of 2003. The success of this campaign has been questionable at best, as recent statistics by Big Champaign, a P2P tracking firm, has found the P2P population continues to rapidly increase despite the perceived risks. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has also sued individual file-traders, but to a far less extent.

Yet in every move the entertainment industry makes to counter online piracy, without fail the file-sharing community counter-attacks. The RIAA and MPAA efforts against individuals are no different.

In order for the MPAA, or more importantly, the RIAA to successfully demand financial damages from an alleged pirate, the suspected individual must of course be connected to the Internet. The entertainment industry has hired firms specifically designed to troll P2P networks and stakeout unsuspecting file-traders with thousands of shared files. From there, the entertainment industry simply downloads enough files to make a copyright case, obtains the individual’s IP address and subpoena’s the suspect’s Internet Service Provider.

But here’s the fly in the ointment. Campus file-traders have learned to simply not share music on the Internet. Instead, they have resorted to sharing on their campus Intranet – or LAN (Local Area Network.) The most popular clients students use to engage in this type of sharing is DC++ (an open source version of DirectConnect); however using Gnutella in a LAN configuration has also proven useful. Because the RIAA and MPAA have no access to campus networks, it is a virtual impossibility for them to monitor this activity.

Knowing this, college and university students are practically immune from RIAA or MPAA lawsuits as long as they share within the confines of the campus network. Considering many universities contain many thousands or tens of thousands of individuals, finding the files he or she wants is typically not a problem.

The situation is raising concerns within the RIAA and MPAA ranks, as they are impotent to deter this unauthorized file-sharing. In fact, the situation is becoming so rampant both organizations have taken the unusual step of issuing joint press releases on the issue. Additionally, the two trade organizations sent 40 letters to as many universities in 25 states addressing the issue. The letters explained the extent of the problem and what campus administrators can do to resolve the issue.

"We are appreciative of our partners in the university community and all they have done in recent years to tackle the problem of digital piracy at campuses across the country," said RIAA President Cary Sherman. "Despite the progress achieved by our collaborative efforts, this remains an ever-evolving problem. We cannot ignore the growing misuse of campus LAN systems or the toll this means of theft is taking on our industry. As we prioritize our focus on campus LAN piracy in the coming year, we hope administrators will take this opportunity to fully evaluate their systems and take action to stop theft by all means."

In the letters, the RIAA and MPAA suggest using blocking and filtering software such as RedLambda’s cGrid and Audible Magic’s CopySense. However in the past, universities have been reluctant to abide by the entertainment industry’s bidding and have only succumbed under the threat of legal action or when their own bandwidth interests are at stake. This significant move by the entertainment industry annunciates that perhaps the war against online piracy is not going as well as advertised.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Entertainment Industry :: RIAA
Entertainment Industry :: MPAA
Unauthorized Distribution :: Other Issues

You can read the press release here

You can read the letter here.

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