UC Santa Cruz graduate Rula Al-Nasrawi illegally downloaded 1,500 songs from the time she was in high school to the end of her sophomore year in college. By then, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) gave her a choice — pay a $3,000 settlement, or go to court, hire a lawyer and potentially pay upwards of $1 million.
Al-Nasrawi is just one of 3,000 UCSC students since 2001 who received notices from various entertainment companies alleging copyright infringement for downloading media illegally using the Internet provided by the university. She is also one of many college students who grew up having the Internet at her fingertips.
As much as Al-Nasrawi felt the financial repercussions of her actions, the music industry as a whole has had to deal with significant economic loss as a result of piracy. Global music piracy costs the music industry $12.5 billion every year, according to a recent analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation.
Paddy Spinks, vice president of international sales and marketing for Concord Records, has witnessed firsthand the shifts within the industry.
“The music industry is currently in a state of transition, or reinventing itself, basically, and this has been going on for several years now, and will continue for several years more,” Spinks said. “Big corporations change slowly.”
Reap what you sow
The Internet has caused many problems for the entertainment industry, which has had to fight against the illegal distribution of copyrighted material since the dawn of Napster in the late ’90s.
Since those days, corporations such as Electric & Musical Industries (EMI) and Sony Music Entertainment have done what they can to fight back against the rising tide of illegal downloading. In 2000, the music industry took on the legendary Napster, which at the time was the leading source for digitally downloadable content. In A&M Records Inc vs. Napster, Napster was found to be in severe violation of copyright laws, forcing the shutdown of its website and leading it to file for bankruptcy two years later.
Illegally downloadable music is still easy to get a hold of. Although Napster is now dead, from its carcass peer-to-peer clients such as eDonkey and BitTorrent have risen to power.
BitTorrent is a form of peer-to-peer file sharing that allows large amounts of data to be transferred between Internet users without exceedingly high bandwidths. Users of BitTorrent are separated into seeders and leechers. A seeder is someone who has a copy of a torrent and offers it up to leechers, who are looking to obtain the file. The more seeders there are, the better the download speed the leechers will experience. When a leecher has fully obtained the torrent file, the leecher becomes a seeder, and the cycle continues. eDonkey, though, is based upon a network system that a user connects to in order to search and find the specific files he or she is looking for.
BitTorrent and eDonkey make up 90 percent of copyright infringements on the Internet, according to a one-year study in 2008 by BayTSP, a firm that specializes in tracking piracy and where copyrighted content appears. Overall, it found 306,227,001 cases of copyright infringement, and those are the numbers for just their clients.
First-year Kresge student Andy Stine is one of the many individuals who choose to download music through peer-to-peer file sharing. Despite the potential financial risk that accompanies this decision, Stine believes the convenience outweighs the cost.
“Well, when you compare the accessibility of torrenting and online downloading, buying music on iTunes is just sort of obnoxious,” Stine said.
Stine wrestles with his justification of such acts, though.
“The way I tackle that issue is that by considering whom it is exactly I’m stealing from. For me it doesn’t really strike me as an issue when I’m illegally downloading music from large artists, because they are backed by huge labels, and I don’t really care much for huge record labels,” Stine said. “But it’s when I’m downloading a local or underground artist that I start, morally, feeling in the red.”
The price you pay
The UC system is known for categorically following federal law. This is no different in the case of copyright infringement. A hard-nosed approach to the situation is to be expected.
“We don’t monitor the networks for the purpose of finding illegal activity, so what I know about the status of copyright infringement is based on the number of notices we get from copyright holders,” said Janine Roeth, director of client services and security for Information Technology Services at UCSC.
Starting this coming July, UCSC will be required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) to enact a plan that will further crack down on students who pirate copyrighted material, Roeth said. ResNet currently allows a maximum download of two gigabytes in a 24-hour period.
“Although using P2P file-sharing technology is not in itself illegal, if you share copyrighted material without permission — even unwittingly — you are breaking both the law and UC policy and could be subject to university, civil and/or criminal sanctions,” according to the ResNet website.
Roethe said that although ITS does not monitor the networks “for the purpose of finding illegal activity,” once a student receives notice of a copyright infringement, ResNet staff begins tracking those individuals.
First-time offenders are notified by the university that their Internet access has been blocked for a two-week period and will remain so until completion of a copyright education quiz. On the second offense, the same process happens, but the student is also required to meet with the student judicial officer, and access is restored after a four-week period and completion of the meeting and the same quiz. For third-time offenders, all of the above occurs, but Internet access is blocked off for the remainder of the year.
UCSC graduate Rula Al-Nasrawi was taken aback when she received a letter from the university courtesy of the RIAA regarding her infraction.
“It’s kind of ridiculous because pretty much everyone I know downloads music, or has downloaded music, or doesn’t even buy music at all, not a single song,” Al-Nasrawi said.
Al-Nasrawi received one of the 514 notices from UCSC that were sent out during the 2007-08 academic year. The previous year, 895 letters were sent out to students, which was the peak number from the period of 2001 through the start of this year.
“The RIAA had a well-publicized campaign throughout 2006-07 and 2007-08, which contributed to our higher numbers in those years,” Roeth said. “They are also responsible for a large number of the notices we received thus far this year.”
Third-year Stevenson student Hannah Kreiger disagrees with the tactics of the music industry. She often uses a website that that makes music videos on YouTube accessible to rip as MP3 files.
“I just feel like the transition to digital music could have been handled a little bit better,” Kreiger said. “It’s really unfair to the people who get prosecuted and get their asses handed to them in lawsuits for downloading a few songs. That’s honestly why I don’t download all that often.”
Change on the horizon
In the two years since Al-Nasrawi paid her $3,000 copyright infringement fine, the RIAA has spent less energy prosecuting individuals who have illegally downloaded copyrighted material. Instead it has switched its focus to people sharing copyrighted material. This has allowed the RIAA to hone in on peer-to-peer sites that host and share the content throughout the Internet.
The music industry could very well win, thanks to a group of bipartisan senators that wrote up S.3804, also known as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. The bill was proposed Sept. 20, and it is currently in the process of being referred to the Senate judiciary committee.
In layman’s terms, the bill gives specific powers to the U.S. attorney general that would allow the attorney general to go after websites that are “dedicated to infringing activities,” such as copyright and trademark infringement. The bill also allows for the attorney general to create two lists: “required to block” and “suggested to block.” Sites that appear on the list would be blocked from viewing.
Spinks said that this bill is a common one in a world of technological expansion and free distribution.
“Bills just like this proposed one have already been passed in France,” Spinks said. “This is an idea that already has some traction in other parts of the world.”
The industry is trying to adapt to these changes in two ways, Spinks said. First, at the top end of the business, the four major corporations, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, are all becoming smaller companies, and are dealing with a narrower group of artists. At the same time, they all maintain a back catalogue that keeps them alive.
Second, there has been an uprising of “middle-class musicians, who are basically doing it all for themselves, or doing it all on a much smaller level,” Spinks said, “whereby touring becomes very important, whereby they are in business with themselves, and they are building their own databases through the use of new media like Facebook or Myspace.”
Some artists have already tried to adapt to these new ways. In October 2007, Radiohead released its critically acclaimed seventh album, “In Rainbows,” as a free digital download. The band allowed its fans to decide what would be a fair price for the recording, and while it was not available for free from, fans could pay as little as 45 pence, equivalent to 45 cents.
Literature graduate student Trevor Schack wishes the music industry could look at bands like Radiohead and licensing distributors like Netflix and Art Store for guidance.
“I really think that there’s going to be a reliable online licensing network for probably everything,” Schack said. “We’re going to see a good one come out for music — I mean, you could almost say that Pandora is it right now. But at some point, for a nominal monthly fee you’re going to be able to access all the music you could want.”
Hannah Kreiger said that everyone should be afforded the right of institutionalized protection of unlimited Internet access.
“You should be able to look at whatever the hell you want,” Kreiger said. “I don’t think that it’s necessarily right to say, ‘You can’t look at this, whatsoever.’ You should have the freedom to look at whatever you want.”
On the other hand, Spinks has no sympathy for those who break the law.
“At the end of the day, if you’re stealing something, you should be stopped. It’s as simple as that, really,” Spinks said. “And you are stealing something if you go to BitTorrent, or wherever, and download some music for free.”