Copyright bill may burn songwriters

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 1:25am

Nashville songwriters, desperate for help to combat illegal downloading, likely don’t stand to get much assistance from the state Legislature when it comes to copyright infringement on college campuses.

A bill that once provided for state colleges and universities to install technology on its network to prevent illegal downloading of copyrighted material has been changed to make it more amenable to the state’s higher education institutions.

“The latest version is one the music industry has made significant concessions in an effort to try to reach an agreement with our university systems,” said Sen. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), the bill’s sponsor.

Burchett’s compromise bill would require all public and private universities in the state with a computer network in their dorm areas to adopt a policy for students that “describes and prohibits” copyright infringement and that details penalties.

The compromise measure does not, however, require that colleges and universities use computer technology to prohibit illegal downloading, a concession from a previous version.

The bill simply asks those institutions to “reasonably attempt” to prevent copyright infringement, and they only are supposed to do that after receiving 50 or more notices of illegal downloading by students.

Wendell Moore, a lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America, said the bill’s language was “softened” because colleges and universities in Tennessee said they could not afford the bill as it was originally crafted.

The Legislature’s fiscal review staff estimated the bill would have cost initially $9.5 million, a figure proponents of the measure disagree with.

In perhaps a silver lining, Moore said the bill has been successful in raising the issue and prompting some universities to take steps on their own to try and prohibit illegal downloading by their students on campus networks.

“I think we have hopefully gotten our point across to the universities that they have a moral obligation to try to deal with it the best that they can on their campuses,” Moore said.

So far, the University of Memphis and Tennessee State University have already taken steps, Moore said, adding that the University of Tennessee is just beginning the process.

At TSU, the institution has been using a system for about three years that monitors downloads to identify copyrighted from non-copyrighted materials, said Dennis Gendron, TSU’s vice president for communications and information technology. TSU’s system halts the illegal downloads when it can identify them.

Gendron said requiring all colleges in the state to install software to prohibit illegal downloading would be “unfeasible.”

“As fast as you close one hole … the peer-to-peer people, they’d just come up with a new strategy,” Gendron said. “It’s just like spam.”

Illegal downloading of copyrighted music has played havoc with the music industry nationally as well as Nashville songwriters.

Bob Regan, a songwriter and board member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, said that in the past five to seven years, a minimum of 50 percent of songwriting positions publishing companies would employ have been cut.

That has occurred, Regan notes, while the University of Tennessee was recently among the top institutions nationally for copyright infringement.

Regan said university systems are currently a “black market” for intellectual property and they have an ability — because of their closed network systems — to implement “reasonable restrictions” on illegal downloading.

“For a state that prides itself on its musical heritage, it just seems logical that steps should be taken to protect that intellectual property,” Regan said.

Burchett’s compromise bill will be heard next week in committees within the state House and Senate.

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

If the song writers want the protection they should pay for it.We shouldn't be spending taxpayer funds to protect private interests. They are sueing people all over the place so let them use their own money/winnings.If the students download illegal material picked up by the equipment they already have kick their butts out of school. That will stop that real quick. Why are we giving them free internet to begin with?

By: DeweyDecible on 12/31/69 at 7:00

idgaf, I agree that private interests should defend themselves and quit lobbying our state to change the law (like AT&T for example). However, college students need free internet. The internet is undeniable the coming dominant medium of now and the future. Professors use websites, blogs, e-mail, and student portals to share documents, assignments, readings, even exams in some instances, thus creating the demand for internet access. This is a good thing, because besides the fact that it is a paperless solution to easier student-teacher dialogues, it's also how business is done. I am a recent graduate who now uses the internet and digital documents for all my work. The internet must be free and open for all of this work to be done. One unfortunate downside, for writers and others, is that this openess results in downloads and more. But there is no stopping it, especially not forcing colleges to enforce something that is hardly enforcable.