File-Sharing Panel Sparks Lively Debate with Mason Students

Posted: October 29, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

A panel on peer-to-peer file sharing left some Mason students angry, some confused, and many talking on Wednesday when representatives of the motion picture, recording, and video game industries attempted to present their views of the technology that has allowed thousands of college students to download millions of pirated songs and videos. With broadband and wireless technology available on nearly every college campus across the country, the peer-to-peer downloading phenomenon is most prevalent in the college-aged demographic of the country.

Trying to get students to understand their options and the consequences of illegal downloading, the panelists presented numerous sides of the issue. “The reality is that you can access movies on the Internet that someone else has stolen, and you have the opportunity to share these files with millions of others for free—but you also have the opportunity to be sued,” said Fritz Attaway from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Attaway, along with Mitch Glazier from the Recording Industry Association of America and Frederick Hirsch from the Entertainment Software Association, argued that students who used free file-sharing services like Kazaa and BitTorrent to download illegal music and other files were actually hurting themselves. “The content is often uncertain, poor quality, and can be littered with spyware and viruses. We would like to provide an alternative to peer-to-peer, and we can have a higher-quality, safer product, but first we have to get our foot in the market,” said Attaway.

Glazier explained that the music business was “hits-driven,” meaning that the sales of the Top 40 artists like Britney Spears and N’SYNC fund genre music like bluegrass or jazz. “Ninety percent of things produced in the music business are failures,” he said. “The hits fund everything else. And when people take the hits and copy them and download them without paying, that’s when the business can crumble.”

Students’ responses to the panelists ranged from confusion to anger. Philosophy major Adam Gurri pointed out that legal action might not be the most effective course of action for these industries. “Telling students they are going to be sued is not a good deterrent,” he said. “It may stop some, but not all. All you can do is compete with the market.”

Panelists Jonathan Band, an intellectual property and Internet and new media attorney for Morrison & Foerster LLP, and Josh Weiner, director of student community for Ruckus Network Inc., agreed. Band said, “The mistake of the music and motion picture industry is often saying to consumers, ‘What you are doing is bad for us.’ They need to start telling people why it’s good for them. The consumer is selfish.” Weiner, whose job at Ruckus Network is to promote a digital campus community that provides students with constant one-click entertainment, local programming, and tools to share their college experiences, thinks that by packaging and marketing the legal downloading services in a way that appeals to college students, the industry might be more successful.

However, for some students who admittedly enjoy the ability to download any song quickly and easily from the comfort of their dorm room, the copyright issues are confusing and contradictory. Students questioned the panelists on the free speech issue, arguing that downloading a song and listening to it was not much different from borrowing a friend’s CD. “I’m still listening to it without paying for it,” one student said. “Why is one okay and not the other? If the copyright laws contradict themselves, why should we be sued for this?”

Glazier argued that there was a clear difference. “You know it’s not okay to go into Tower Records and take a CD without paying for it. Downloading is the same thing, only without the physical product,” he said. He also added that it is not the technology that is bad—”the technology is wonderful”—but rather the way some companies use it is bad. “Companies who warp the technology and make money off it should be responsible. Instead, they put the blame on you, the American students. They aren’t getting sued—you are.”

The panel was moderated by Rosemary Chase, university copyright officer, and also included U.S. Patent and Trademark Office expert Chris Katopis. Robert Nakles, director of the Project Management Office, Information Technology Unit (ITU), and John Hanks, senior manager, Network Engineering and Operations, Technology Systems Division, ITU, were also on hand to answer any technical questions about file sharing. The University Libraries’ Copyright Office and the Communication Department sponsored the event. Steve Klein, instructor and coordinator of the electronic journalism minor, organized the program.

Students, faculty, and staff will get another chance to clear up questions about file sharing legislation—and get information on avoiding criminal prosecution—by registering for “Sex, Lies, and File Sharing: P2P Theory Versus Practice.” The workshop is on Monday, Nov. 1, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Johnson Center, Room 311. To register, click here.

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