Readers of this column are well aware that for months I have been concentrating on core issues related to the current and future college parent experience, issues of academic preparation for, admissions to and financing of higher education.

Today it is time for a musical interlude, and for some practical advice. My goal is to help you prevent your child from becoming, perhaps unwittingly, a pirate of music who could, as a result, face unwelcome legal consequences.

If your child is already in college, or will be heading off to school in the fall, you should be aware that music piracy is increasingly in the spotlight on campus. Unauthorized peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing of copyrighted music, movies, software and other material continues to pose problems for colleges and universities, and they are starting to take action to educate students about the risks of such trading.

Among the efforts are:

  • A software program at the University of Florida that attempts to block all peer-to-peer transfers;
  • A series of educational videos and radio spots at the University of Wisconsin, pointing out the legal ramifications of unauthorized sharing; and
  • A requirement at Purdue University that all students sign an acceptable-use policy before they are given access to campus computer networks.

Now you might be asking yourself, where did this issue come from? And why, in the greater scheme of things, is it important?

Telling you where it came from is the easy part; I’ll leave it to you to judge the importance.

Unauthorized file sharing as an issue has been brought to the forefront by the entertainment industry. Not surprisingly, it comes down to money. Industry executives believe that there is considerable evidence of lost revenue from lost sales due to unauthorized file sharing. They cite a decline in CD sales and a loss of CD outlets today, but express as much or greater concern over what could happen tomorrow, as broadband capacity expands.

With more rapid downloading capability made available by broadband, the industry contends that movies may soon become more broadly and illegitimately traded. In a worst-case scenario,” the illegal downloading and uploading of first-run, full-length movies could become commonplace.

Colleges and universities, as repositories of learning and purveyors of codes of conduct, are understandably concerned about this issue from a legal and ethical standpoint. They do not want to become file-sharing enablers and, in the process, allow the computer and network facilities that they make available for legitimate education and research purposes to be used for illegitimate activity.

Schools are also concerned from a pragmatic perspective when it comes to the use of their computer networks. Colleges and universities want their networks to support education and research, not to become clogged with P2P file-sharing activity that can bog their systems down or, even worse, cause them to crash altogether. As one higher education official recently put it: “This issue is about bandwidth preservation.”

While I will grant that “bandwidth preservation” does not approach academic preparation or financing savvy as issues for you and your family to have at the top of your college admission and attendance dashboard, I hope that this week’s column has at least got you to thinking about the variety of approaches that are out there to combat this problem. Although many colleges have not yet adopted comprehensive policies to combat music piracy on their campuses, those who have done so expect their rules to be followed.

That concludes our musical interlude.

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