The introduction and proliferation of Internet file sharing programs has crippled the music recording industry. The software has enabled thousands of students to download nearly any song on demand. This ability has also drastically reduced the commercial sale of CDs. In an effort to reverse the trend, the Recording Industry Association of America has launched a multifaceted campaign against file sharers and the software companies producing such technology. Throughout much of the effort, GW students have been spared RIAA lawsuits
In a recent RIAA press release, however, GW was named – along with 20 other colleges and universities – as an institution where students would be prosecuted. Lawsuits against students are regrettable and unfortunate, but this page finds little fault in the RIAA protecting the rights of its recording artists. And while many students take advantage of file sharing programs, they still are partaking in an illegal act. This being said, the University must develop a way to provide file sharing to students while simultaneously adhering to musicians’ copyright entitlements.
The administration should take a serious look at the file sharing arrangement at Pennsylvania State University as a model for a program at GW. At Penn State students can register for the Napster music service as part of their tuition bill. Students are then able to enjoy free and legal downloads of the entire Napster library. GW should try and reach a similar arrangement with the company. At Penn State, nearly half of the on-campus undergraduate population took advantage of the service within the first two weeks of its implementation. Under such a program at GW, students living in University residence halls would be able to download music legally and in a cost-efficient manner – assuming the University would be able to negotiate a deal with the company. The plan could also encourage students to live on campus as the University attempts to attract more residents to fulfil District zoning requirements. The University could also work with other District universities whose students are being targeted to create a program for the consortium.
Fostering a relationship with Napster would open several more business possibilities for the University. Such an arrangement could enable on-campus venues to sell “Napster Cards” – to be used to purchase songs that could be burned onto CDs – and other paraphernalia. The cards could also be sold on Colonial Cash, boosting University revenue.
Despite the prevalence of new legal file-sharing programs, individuals will continue to download their music illegally. This highlights the fact that the recording industry has not developed an adequate business model to react to a new consumer reality. In combination with working through independent vendors such as Napster and Apple’s ITunes, the industry should be developing its own solution to meeting new digital realities. By working to create a competitive alternative for consumers, the RIAA could address the root issues behind illegal file sharing, rather than attack those on the surface.
GW students are no longer immune to the RIAA crackdown on illegal file sharing. And while the University’s earlier efforts to inform students that their usage could be problematic were noble, officials should work to ensure that its students are no longer participating in illegal file sharing by making a cheap alternative available.