File-sharing crackdown deters would-be music pirates

In the wake of recent crackdowns on illegal downloading, students have been forced to reconsider their methods of acquiring music. Since the beginning of September, 15 notices of violations of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) have been served at the College, including 10 from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The behaviors most susceptible to penalties, which cost upwards of $3000, include downloading files from applications like Limewire and sharing media over peer-to-peer networks.

Students involved with the settlements, either through being served themselves or through the experience of close friends, have been quick to act. Alex Ping ’08, a WCFM D.J., saw three of his friends get caught last year for illegal downloading on Limewire. “After that, I immediately removed the software from my computer and have not touched a downloading application since,” he said.

Many students have taken similar steps, even if they have not yet been personally affected by the settlements. Eric Beam ’10, member of the All Acoustic Alliance (AAA), cited the recent lawsuits as a major deterrent for downloading nowadays. “Students are more wary of their downloading habits,” he said. “We’ve been led to think there’s a very real possibility we’ll get caught and fined a lot of money.”

Salvador Villa ’10, a campus representative for Apple Computers, explained that he would not take the risk to obtain music illegally. “The RIAA is serious about screwing people over,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of the mistake – the last thing I need on my plate is a lawsuit.”

Dinny Taylor, chief technology officer at the College, hoped that students would alter their behavior in light of the recent lawsuits. “The College won’t protect students from the consequences of illegal activity online any more than it will protect them if they go into someone else’s room and steal something,” Taylor said, warning that the Office of Information Technology (OIT) may have to take more drastic measures if file sharing continues to be an issue. “Ideally students should take responsibility for their actions and not share copyrighted material,” she said.

Still, there are many on campus who do not see the monetary settlements as having much of a long-term effect on their music downloading habits. “There’s definitely a lot of illegal downloading still going on,” said Dave Moore ’10, an employee of OIT. “People know that the RIAA won’t catch the vast majority of downloaders, so they’re playing the odds.”

Matt Law ’10, a self-proclaimed “indie music boob,” characterized the situation as a “‘Sure, other people are getting caught but it will never happen to me’ phenomenon.”

Even before illegal downloading came with the present threat of a financial deterrent, some students avoid illegal downloading for other purposes.

Eva Breitenbach ’10 explained that she never got illegal files off of the Internet because of the potential threat of viruses. “The RIAA hasn’t really changed my behavior at all,” she said. “File sharing always scared me, so I never had any of those programs.”

Others are driven to purchase music out of respect of the artist. “[Buying CDs] makes me feel good about symbolically thanking the artist for what they have given me,” said Joe Mastracchio ’10, an AAA member.

So how do students get

their music?

Tech-savvy students on campus have reacted to the RIAA lawsuits by finding less traceable ways to pirate music and other media files. “It’s made me a little more careful,” said one student, who explained that he now uses Peerguardian, a program that blocks IP addresses known to be associated with the RIAA and other copyright holders, to obtain music online. Others have turned to BitTorrent, a program that splices media files into untraceably small parts and then lumps them back together.

“The RIAA will always be searching [for illegal downloaders],” Ping said. “But I believe there will always be those people who are one step ahead with some new application that [the RIAA] can’t detect.”

Other illegal ways that students have found to get their music include ripping CDs borrowed from friends or the library, zipdrive and Instant Messenger exchanges and the Google blogsearch, a tool that allows music pirates to search blogs for entire albums that can then be downloaded without a trace. Music or mp3 blogs, a relatively recent phenomenon, are Web sites on which bloggers post individual tracks for download. The blogs often contain links to sites where the songs can be purchased, but their legality is questionable.

Some international students take advantage of the lax policies on file-sharing in their home countries to acquire music illegally. “The RIAA might be controlling the illegal downloading and uploading here, but the control is not nearly as strict in many other countries,” said one student. She explained that whenever she wants a new song, she tells her sister back home to download the song illegally and sends it back via e-mail. “It’s simple and very illegal,” she said. “But for the time being I don’t have the resources to buy enough music to satisfy my need for it.”

Legal routes for music acquisition do remain, and other students have resorted to these somewhat less convenient measures. Ruckus, a free music download service for college students, has been popular on campus recently. “The big benefit of Ruckus is that it’s free,” Breitenbach said. “You don’t have to make an investment without knowing what you’re getting. It’s also legal, which is obviously a perk.” The major drawback, however, is that music is encrypted and therefore can only be played using the Ruckus program itself. Students also named YouTube and MySpace as ways to listen to music legally and free of charge.

“There really isn’t any place where students can buy CDs in Williamstown,” Ping said. Though this statement is not correct – Toonerville Trolley on Water St. does sell CDs –it represents the prevailing perception on campus. Few students visit the store, making the Internet their main destination for satisfying their music needs while in Williamstown.

However, purchasing a CD is not foreign to all students. “I tend to do the old-fashioned thing and buy albums,” Beam said. “I’m proud to say I’ve only ever bought one song at the iTunes store.”

Mastracchio explained his passion for the tangible quality of compact discs. “I think that the cover art, liner notes and even the feeling of holding it in your hand give you a sense of intimacy and possession that you lose when you start downloading music,” he said.