There has been a lot of talk online about students downloading music illegally using campus networks. There are a number of issues that are being addressed. Some of it centers on the schools revealing (or not revealing) the offenders' identities. Much of the talk is about the RIAA's approach to this problem. A smaller number of us view this as part of the much larger issue of [academic] integrity.
Just last week, the RIAA issued another press release about their legal efforts:
RIAA Sends More Pre-Lawsuit Letters To Colleges One Year Into Campaign
"The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on behalf of its member record companies, has sent a new wave of 401 pre-litigation settlement letters to 12 universities this week. The letters cite individuals for online music theft via peer-to-peer services such as Ares, BitTorrent, Gnutella, Limewire, and Morpheus.
The RIAAâ€™s thirteenth wave of letters went to the following colleges this week: Boston University (35 pre-litigation settlement letters), Columbia University (50), Drexel University (33), Indiana University (40), North Carolina State University (35), Ohio State University (30), Purdue University (28), Tufts University (20), University of Maine System (32), University of New Hampshire (32), University of Southern California (50), and the University of Virginia (16)."
You would think that if someone could come up with a completely legal and advertising-supported music service geared exclusively to the college community, it would be a big hit.
Well, someone did. It's called Ruckus. And it's not a big hit.
With Ruckus, all students with a valid school email (.edu) at a participating school have free unlimited access to the entire Ruckus music library. With a decent connection, you can download full albums in under a minute. You can create and share your playlists and it's 100% free and legal.
How could it fail? Free music. Unlimited. No legal hassles for students or institutions. But it's i trouble. I got an email from Ruckus last week that said:
Dear RUCKUS members,
You know that RUCKUS gives FREE and LEGAL music to college students, right? Weâ€™ve recently asked for your help because we need more members to continue to offer the music for free. Unfortunately, the efforts were not good enough, so we're asking you again to share RUCKUS with your friends. We pay our bills with ad revenue, so we need more users on the RUCKUS site in order to pay the rent and keep your music flowing for free. It doesn't matter how you do it. Share on Facebook, e-mail your friends, or even streak across your quad just help us save your music.
So what's the problem? There are a number of explanations. One post I found is from a Rutgers student who feels it failed there due to a bandwidth quota the university imposes on resident hall students.
I had an account at NJIT when it was first offered which I used infrequently, but it worked fine. Students I talked to at NJIT didn't like it because the music couldn't travel with them (on their mp3 player or cell phone) and they didn't "own" the music (they couldn't burn it to a CD, for example). Of course, those digital rights limitations are exactly why the service is legal.
At Passaic County Community College, it's not offered at all - and their bandwidth could probably never sustain it. There are a good number of affiliated schools, and yet the service doesn't seem to be able to make a go of it and so is recruiting users to recruit more users.
This post from LSU, notes that Mac users aren't happy that you have to use Windows 2000, XP or Vista on your computer to use the Ruckus software required to download the music.
Apparently, students want DRM-free downloads. The record companies don't. Students want all the bandwidth it takes to get the music. Colleges don't want to give that much away for non-academic purposes.
Readers of this blog know that I am a proponent of open everything, but that wide circle does have a border at the frontier lands of legality. It's a border that is unclear, and though it's not lawless, the enforcement is uneven and unfair. Does your school even have information on its policies available to students? (A sample from Purdue)
Colleges are not united on this issue. The University of Wisconsin is holding the RIAA to the letter of the law by refusing to pass along the settlement offers to students. Ohio University has completely banned peer-to-peer network traffic. Stanford University is charging its students reconnection fees if the school is served with a takedown notice.
I've seen the articles stating that the RIAA demands a minimum fine for each song of $750 (yeah, I know, it's a 99 cent iTunes download), so those 100 songs you downloaded will cost you $75,000. But they'll usually settle for $3000. Still, not a bargain.
Isn't this music downloading part of a larger discussion we need to be having about plagiarism, cheating, intellectual property, copyright, fair use and academic integrity?