Since last spring, when the Recording Industry Association of America announced its intention to scare illegal file-sharers out of the habit by filing waves of lawsuits over the course of this school year, we have wondered when — not if — someone from Yale would be caught, and what the University would do about it. We were happy to see that Yale students survived the latest batch of 261 subpoenas served last week. But as recording industry executives would have us believe, it is only a matter of time.
Our concern ultimately is not with the RIAA’s tactics, ill-conceived and alienating of college students though they may be, but with Yale’s response to a problem that it can no longer avoid. It used to be the University and its general counsel did just enough to keep Metallica at bay and itself out of the courtroom, which meant, in essence, booting students off of Napster five years ago. Otherwise, the University has been laissez-faire in the extreme, and rightly so.
But now, what seemed too good to be true finally is.
Contrary to recording industry and perhaps University officials’ sentiment, we are not a generation that genuinely believes music is free. But we do have college-sized wallets, and we do know how to work our computers. So until someone provides a viable alternative — not a threat or a lawsuit or a letter to our parents — students will continue to download music, legally or otherwise.
Rather than seeing how long they can do virtually nothing, University administrators now have the opportunity to consider ways of legally providing students with access to music online. We hope Yale will continue its policy of protecting Internet users’ privacy while beginning to evaluate alternatives for the not-too-distant post-litigation era, when peer-to-peer file-sharing is no longer limitless and digital music is no longer free.
This summer, an RIAA committee on higher education suggested a variety of steps universities could take to prevent students from pirating movies and music. As many other schools did in August, Yale added a presentation on illegal downloading to the computer portion of freshman orientation. We strongly doubt that any moralizing, intellectualizing or otherwise instructing students on the technical and legal ramifications of illegal file-sharing will do much to dissuade the practice. At this point, music downloading is so rampant we believe it is beyond the University’s control.
Fortunately, file-sharing does not have to be illegal. Among the RIAA committee’s other suggestions were subscription services that would allow students with university IP addresses to have access to any music they want without having the ability to download it onto their computers.
In the same way student tuition and board fees go to pay for cable television and access to Lexis Nexis, the cost of Yale might someday include subscription to such a site. Far better than the looming penalties, mandatory tutorials or seminars about illegal file-sharing many universities are implementing this year, this option seems at least to have the possibility of curbing illicit file-sharing on campus.