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STUDENT SURVIVAL GUIDE '08: Digital music guide 

Please don't stop the music.


More and more things are becoming extinct everyday. Some of the most recent victims include CDs, cassettes, and records. We're the millennial generation. We've gone digital -- and so has our music.

            Since the birth of Napster around the turn of the century, music downloads have become the center of attention for music lovers, lawmakers, and lawyers alike, and have stirred up controversy on college campuses across the country. It seems you can't flip through a newspaper or turn on the news without hearing about music pirating and file sharing, and the lawsuits against them.

            While downloading tunes for free may sound great at first, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. The Recording Industry of America (RIAA), a trade group that represents the major labels of the recording industry in the United States, took notice of the free-of-charge, free-of-penalty music trend early on and has been cracking down on downloaders ever since. Unfortunately for the millennial generation, a good percentage of those downloaders are us.

The RIAA claims that using peer-to-peer and file-sharing software, like LimeWire and Gnutella, to get music is copyright infringement. And even though we may not like it, they're right. Not to mention, IP addresses linked to our shiny new laptops through our school's internet provider make it easy for the RIAA to prove their point. As of July 2006, the RIAA had brought lawsuits against more than 20,000 Americans suspected of distributing copyrighted works.

            Some peer-to-peer sites promise anonymity and protection against law enforcement by artificially limiting bandwidth, hiding contents of a file from "eavesdroppers," and even by claiming freedom of speech. Despite their promises, however, few have been able to keep up a steady blockade, and nearly every peer-to-peer site that has been created has eventually been caught with their hands in the illegal music cookie jar.

.           What happens to anyone who gets caught sharing music with their friends, or downloading "free" songs from the net? It starts off with a letter to you and your school, letting them know about your illegal downloading and asking for more information and a $3,000 pre-litigation fee. If the pre-litigation fee is not paid within 20 days of receiving the notice, violators could face federal charges that can reach as much as a $750 fee for each downloaded song.

            Some colleges and universities, like the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maine (both of which were targets of the RIAA initiative to prevent music pirating), have outright denied the requests of the RIAA for student information, claiming it would violate student privacy and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

For the most part, though, institutions of higher education have jumped on the RIAA's bandwagon and stepped up measure to prevent students from illegally downloading music. RIT even offers students free use of download site Ruckus, so they can legally download music. Just use your RIT e-mail address and clickstream your way to your favorite tunes. Pretty soon, all colleges could be required to develop such a plan to combat illegal downloading if a bill now being debated in Congress becomes law.

            The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which passed through the Senate in July 2007, and the House in February 2008, addresses college prices and campus safety, among other issues. Section 494, the "Campus Theft Prevention Act," would require colleges to inform students of the policies and procedures involved in illegal downloading and develop a plan giving alternatives to downloading. The clause would also require colleges to explore technology-based deterrents to illegal activity and submit an annual report of their policies to the U.S. Department of Education.

            So with lawsuits galore, new college policies, and even a possible federal law, make sure you're still enjoying life's sweet music. Just make sure it's legal.

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