MPAA says it blamed too much on students

Monday, January 28, 2008

When it comes to the heated topic of movie piracy, it seems college students are not as criminal as the entertainment industry made them out to be.

The Motion Picture Association of America admitted last Wednesday that it overestimated the money lost because of illegal file sharing among college students by almost 300 percent. In a 2005 study, the MPAA blamed college students for 44 percent of its losses – a number that has recently been readjusted to 15 percent.

“The numbers were wrong, and we thought they were wrong, but we couldn’t prove that,” said Connie Sadler, director of information technology security. She feels that piracy is nothing unique to colleges but that entertainment corporations often target college networks because their high bandwidth makes downloading faster and because student contact information is easy to access.

The MPAA’s study claimed a loss of $6.1 billion because of illegal movie downloading and file sharing, though most of the losses are attributed to piracy overseas. It attributed the miscalculation of student piracy to “human error,” without elaborating.

“They’re going to try to do things that they can get away with,” said Joe Larios ’10, treasurer of the Brown Film Society and a Herald comic artist. “The higher the figure that you can use with your lobbies in Congress, the easier it is to get legislation in your favor.”

The MPAA is currently pushing for laws to make universities crack down harder on piracy within their networks. But this new statistic suggests that on-campus solutions to piracy would affect only a small percentage of the MPAA’s profits.

“I don’t think it’s really a case of individuals wanting to steal intellectual property,” Sadler said. “It’s more of a case of consumers wanting to get content quickly and at a reasonable price.”

She said the range of download options often leave consumers unsure what is legal and what is not. Sadler, like many Brown students, feels that the current ways of legally buying media do not meet consumers’ expectations of convenience.

Larios said legally bought music and movies are often inferior to their illegally obtained counterparts because corporations limit the ways in which the purchased files can be used. For example, he pointed to software on DVDs that prevents people from copying movies to a computer or another DVD. Songs bought from Apple’s iTunes music store can only be played on five computers.

“It’s just easier to download it (illegally),” said Osmar Olivo ’11. “They’re prosecuting the kids who are doing this stuff, but there are definitely people that are doing worse things. You see all the rock stars and movie stars – they’re still living in these huge houses. They aren’t being hurt very much by the money.”

“We have a responsibility to have policies and procedures … that comport with the law, and you can’t shield anybody from that,” said Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, interim vice president for campus life and student services.

The Herald reported April 12 that the Recording Industry Association of America sued 12 Brown students for illegally downloading music. Carey explained private suits are out of the University’s hands but that complaints of piracy to the University often result in a warning sent to students and temporary suspension of their Internet access.

Since September 2007, 76 percent of the total piracy complaints received by the University have been about music, not video. But Sadler said that last year, she saw more complaints regarding video than music.

The Office of Student Life and Computing and Information Services work together to provide free entertainment such as IPTV and Ruckus, an online music service. Although Ruckus is free, it limits the usage of its music files – songs must be played on a computer and cannot be copied to a CD or played on an iPod.

Many students expressed a desire for a service that would provide unlimited music or movie downloads for a flat yearly rate. “We’re really in the midst of a revolution here in terms of content management,” said Sadler, “and there a lot of things to be decided before this problem is solved.”

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