Western takes part in pilot project to address illegal music downloads

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University is one of four University of North Carolina system institutions participating in a pilot project this fall aimed at studying new methods of downloading and distributing copyrighted music files from the Internet.

Through the pilot project, Western and three other UNC schools are partnering with legal file-sharing service providers to test the legitimate digital delivery of audio and video content to students—not only for entertainment uses, but also for course work, classroom use, and application to distance education. The project also will involve faculty and partners in research targeted at better understanding the roots of copyright infringement and formulating real long-term solutions.

Western and the other schools involved in the fall projects – North Carolina A&T State University, the N.C. School of the Arts and UNC-Wilmington – were selected based on interest and technological capabilities, said Tom Warner, director of coordinated technology management for the UNC system. UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State will begin similar pilot projects in spring 2005.

Higher education officials have long touted the academic value of peer-to-peer file sharing, but have done little to prove it, said Molly Broad, president of the UNC system and a member of the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities that has grappled with the issue for the past two years.

“While providing legitimate access, increasing student and faculty education, and consistently enforcing violations of policy and law are imperative to addressing the legal and ethical issues peer-to-peer file sharing has raised, the real breakthrough will come when we uncover how to cost-effectively use these technologies in teaching and research and how to influence the business models used by media industries to complement the goals of higher education,” said Broad.

At Western, the divisions of Student Affairs and Information Technology are partnering with Rhapsody, an online company providing digital audio service, to deliver entertainment to students living in campus residence halls. In addition, the project also will examine the use of online content-delivery systems in the classroom, said Tom Franke, Western’s chief information officer.

“Information Technology is excited that Western can take a leading role in President Broad’s initiative,” Franke said. “This project fits right in with our mission: using technology to enrich learning and student life.”

The project will enable students to download music free of charge, as long as songs are stored on an individual computer. If students want to copy the song onto a CD or MP3, they must pay a small fee. The idea, university officials say, is to provide a free and legal way for students to access music online and to educate them about copy infringement issues and the very real possibility of lawsuits by entertainment companies attempting to stop illegal file sharing.

“Colleges and universities are being targeted by the music industry when students use their school’s computer and technology resources to illegally share music files. This project provides our students with a way to continue to access music online, but in a way that is legal and without the copyright infringement issues,” said Keith Corzine, director of residential living.

At the end of the pilot project, students at participating campuses will be surveyed to measure the impact of the programs and to determine whether a UNC system-wide service is feasible.

The first-semester costs of the pilot programs are being funded through a $200,000 grant from an unnamed major music label, which was impressed by the multi-level approach being employed by UNC, Warner said. Ongoing campus participation will be determined by each campus as student demand, pricing and other business model opportunities develop.