PIRACY: MPAA admits to overstating infringement

(U-WIRE) For the past two years, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had claimed that the pirating of copyrighted movies on college campuses accounted for a staggering 44 percent of monetary losses to the movie industry. But the organization recently disclosed that the real figure is closer to 15 percent, an admission that could undermine its efforts to aggressively combat illegal filesharing among students.

The MPAA offered little explanation for the serious inconsistency, claiming only that it was due to “human error,” according to the Associated Press. The specific nature of the error is still unclear. The organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

As part of its intensive efforts to combat piracy, the MPAA has supported legislative action to curb unauthorized movie downloading on college campuses, including support for a bill in the House earlier this year called the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007. The act would make college internet networks more secure against illegal downloading.

The MPAA also published a list of “Top 25 Piracy Schools” in April 2007 ranked by number of students caught violating copyright laws, naming Columbia and Penn as the top two offenders.

At Princeton, which did not make the list, the revised figure was seen as a potentially positive sign. “It is unfortunate that it was a mistake,” Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Hilary Herbold said in an interview. “But it is welcomed news for us if at least [the] percentage of violations is lower than had been thought.”

The University received 209 complaints in the last academic year from both the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which monitors copyright violations for the music industry. Eighty-three complaints were received in 2005-06, and 180 were received in 2004-05. “Although we had more cases last year, [the number] fluctuates,” Herbold said. “One year does not make a trend.”

Herbold said that the University does not actively monitor for copyright infringements. Rather, it receives complaints from copyright holders against specific IP addresses on campus. Thus, it is difficult to know precisely how frequently piracy occurs on campus. Students at the University illegally download music more frequently than they download movies, Herbold added.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the University, as an internet service provider, is required to forward any complaints to the individuals who are tied to the IP addresses in question. These complaints can take the form of a warning, a pre-litigation letter or a subpoena. In the first two cases, the University protects the privacy of the individual while taking steps to prevent future violations, University Counsel Clayton Marsh ’85 said. If served with a subpoena, however, the University is required by law to release the identity of the accused person.

Marsh said that the volume of pre-litigation letters, which inform copyright violators of pending litigation against them, has been increasing, though the overall number remains small. These letters allow the students to pay a fine to the RIAA or MPAA to avoid taking the matter to court.

In the past several years, several students who have received pre-litigation letters have settled. Some have maintained that they would have liked to challenge the organizations out of court if they had the time and money, however. None of the students contacted chose to comment at this time.

It may be that even though students understand the copyright law, they still deliberately choose to engage in pirating because they do not see it as a real crime. “We do quite a bit to educate students on this, and I think that students are aware of the policy,” Herbold said, but in many cases “they just don’t see it as a property issue.”

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