Today the RIAA and MPAA sent a nag letter to 40 university presidents, urging them to stop students from swapping music and movies on campus networks. Once again, rather than offering collegiate music fans "all you can eat" sharing plans in exchange for a sensible fee, the entertainment industry is trying to deputize universities to act as their unpaid on-campus police force.
It's not that universities haven't made an effort -- it's that more enforcement isn't a realistic answer. When Napster first rose to fame, many universities complied with the RIAA's demand that Napster be blocked. We all know how that turned out, with Napster replaced by an ever-growing number of file sharing technologies that are more popular than ever. Then universities were told to spend scarce dollars to offer students Windows-only, iPod-allergic, music services like the new Napster. Campus file sharing continued unabated. Three years ago, the RIAA companies began bypassing the university administrators and suing college kids directly. That, too, hasn't stopped students from sharing.
More policing of college networks won't stop file sharing, it will just push fans to use other technologies -- VPNs, hard drives, USB flash drives, recordable DVDs (and soon HD-DVD and Blu-Ray), and ad hoc wireless networks. In fact, the migration to sharing on "small worlds networks" like college LANs is a confirmation of one of the now-famous Darknet paper's [PDF] central predictions: so long as people are able to make and share copies, they are going to do so. In fact, RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol has already said he is more worried about CD burning than P2P. So, short of ubiquitous surveillance of all communications channels (including hand-to-hand swapping), stopping college music fans from sharing music is doomed to failure.
While cracking down on university LANs won't stop file sharing, it will likely compromise the privacy of the university community, as activities are monitored for file sharing. The RIAA and MPAA recommend adopting network filtering tools like Audible Magic, but they're trivial to evade. New restrictions on network use will also hinder legitimate network uses (already, some universities are blocking students from running any kind of servers). EFF has explained these problems at great length in its white paper, "When Push Comes to Shove: A Hype-Free Guide to Evaluating Technical Solutions to Copyright Infringement on Campus Networks."
College students are some of the most avid music and movie fans, yet the RIAA and MPAA continue to treat them like criminals. It's high time for a better way forward.