This AP piece reports that the RIAA “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.”
Some schools are playing along, investigating music copying and in some cases punishing students with revocation of internet service or academic suspension. This is ridiculous. First of all, as Purdue’s spokesperson says, “In a sense, the (complaint) letter is asking us to pursue an investigation and as the service provider we don’t see that as our role.”
But more generally, if the RIAA asked your school to crack down on students making mix tapes for their friends, would you collaborate? What if publishers complained that students were sharing books?
Behavior that infringes on copyright has been ignored or shielded by fair use for years; only now with computers these behaviors are much easier and more efficient. Now all of a sudden the industry has a problem. The fact is, when I make a mix for my friend (fair use), I am giving her an unrestricted digital copy of the songs. And every song that passes through my computer is being copied in several locations (hard drive, program memory, audio buffer, etc.). If making digital copies is copyright infringement, then playing any digital content is copyright infringement.
Even DRM schemes don’t prevent copying, they just make it more of a hassle. Just like getting dragged into your dean’s office for listening to mp3s.
The RIAA is not — because it can’t be — acting on principle. They will take this as far as they can before we stop them. We have a choice of two future worlds: one in which digital files are freely copied, or one in which we pay for every time we open a file. Which do you prefer?