University of Rochester

Facing Up to the Digital Dilemma
A Discussion of Peer-to-Peer File Sharing on Feb. 16

January 28, 2004

Confronting the new digital age, the recording industry is trying to clamp down on illegal file-sharing of music and videos. At the same time, colleges and universities—whose students are thought to be among the greatest offenders—are resisting the idea that they should "police" their campus communities.

At 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, nationally prominent participants in the resolution of those conflicting viewpoints, and those representing the students' varying perspectives, will be featured in a panel discussion titled "What Part of Jailhouse Rock Don't You Understand? Defining Rights in the Digital Age" at the University of Rochester.

Panelists are:

  • Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA);
  • Charles E. Phelps, provost of the University and chair of the Technology Task Force of the national Joint Committee on Peer-to-Peer File Sharing;
  • Marjorie Hodges Shaw, special advisor to the Chief Information Officer at the University, and co-founder and former director of the Cornell Computer Policy and Law Program;
  • David Marvin '04, director of the Yellowjackets, a student group that performs and records its own arrangements; and
  • Peter Ordal '04, technical counsel to Student Government.

University President Thomas H. Jackson will moderate the discussion in Hoyt Hall. (The audio from the session will be broadcast live on the Web, available at a link on the Office of the Provost page,

The recording industry has used a variety of tactics to discourage illegal downloading of music. On Jan. 21, for instance, RIAA filed suit against 532 computer users who allegedly violated copyright laws as they "shared" music. That followed a U.S. Court of Appeals (District of Columbia) ruling that stopped the industry from using a fast-track subpoena process that would have forced Verizon (and, potentially, other Internet service providers) to identify alleged infringers other than in the course of a lawsuit.

"Our campaign against illegal file sharers is not missing a beat," Sherman said at the time. "The message to illegal file sharers should be as clear as ever—we can and will continue to bring lawsuits on a regular basis against those who illegally distribute copyrighted music."

While the industry fine-tunes its methods for preventing illegal downloading, universities and colleges have been discussing their responsibilities. "Many of us in academe strongly take the position that while we'll educate our students about copyright, we are not in the business of prosecuting infringement, especially if that means that we are asked to start looking at the content of e-mail or other Internet communications of our students and faculty," Phelps said.

"But we're willing to work with the recording industry," he added. "A core mission of a university is to create intellectual property, and we are very conscious of the need to respect the ownership of what we create and invent on our campuses. We respect the ownership of artists' 'creative property' as well."

While some music buffs even liken their file sharing to "civil disobedience," arguing that the current law is inequitable, new alternative ways of defining copyright law are also in the wind. The Feb. 16 event will include discussion of some of those ideas, challenging disgruntled file-swappers to help change—rather than violate—existing statutes and regulations.

In the meantime, MusicMatch, Rhapsody, Apple iTunes, and Napster 2.0 are among those services that have been created to provide legal downloads. Pennsylvania State University, for example, started offering Napster's online music service to its students in early January, generating some 100,000 downloads or streaming-audio requests within days of startup.

The Feb. 16 event is sponsored by the Undergraduate Economics Council, Computer Interest Floor, and Office of the Provost.