In the face of a crackdown by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on illegal sharing of music files, the University continues to search for alternatives and solutions to a campus trend not decreasing in popularity. In a survey of 43 students conducted by the Argus, 81 percent admitted to stealing music online and sharing files with friends.
In the fall of 2006, the University agreed to provide the online music service Ruckus to students, and to promote it on campus, at no charge to the University. However, Ruckus has not proven effective. Twenty-eight percent of students who responded to the survey said that they have tried Ruckus, while only nine percent said that they actively use it.
“I have an account [with Ruckus],” said Rachel Isser ’11, a Mac user. “I don’t use it.”
The low use of Ruckus is partly due to the prevalence of Macintosh computers on campus, which are not compatible with the encryption system used by Ruckus. Fifty-six percent of students surveyed said that they own a Mac, and 77 percent own an iPod.
Many students who own Macs said that they created accounts with Ruckus, only to realize afterwards that it would not work on their computers. The iPod has become the predominant mp3 player on the market internationally, and 35 percent of University surveyed students said that iTunes is one of their primary sources for music. However, compatibility may not be the only issue with Ruckus
“I tried Ruckus,” said Kathy Leung ’10, a Windows user. “I hate Ruckus.”
Even those students who use the Windows version of iTunes have run into problems with the music service. Files downloaded from the site cannot be burned onto CD’s, in order to prevent file sharing. This makes it impossible for PC users to transfer music to iTunes, then to iPods.
Four or five years ago, the RIAA sent notices to colleges and universities with the IP numbers of computers that were being used in violation of copyright laws. In April 2007, it sent letters to 40 institutions, including Wesleyan, claiming that it was aware of illegal file sharing on these campuses, and suggesting ways to reduce it.
There are critical questions to be asked here, according to Associate Vice President for Information Technology Services (ITS) Ganesan Ravishanker. For example, how does the RIAA know what is happening within the University’s network? He clarified that ITS does not want to become involved in a debate with the RIAA over privacy rights.
Last year, the RIAA began to issue subpoenas to schools’ information technology services, requesting the names of students who were sharing files illegally. To date, 400 students in the United States have been issued pre-trial notices. Most cases ended with a settlement of $3,000 to $5,000. The University has not received any such notices.
“If that were to happen to us, we would have to legally [release the student’s name],” Ravishanker said. “Our advice is that students don’t do it.”
Although ITS does not monitor students’ activity within the University’s Internet network, it is able to identify those computers that share files and pass the RIAA’s notices to their owners.
“Illegal file sharing was a huge problem at that time,” Ravishanker said of the RIAA’s initial contact with United States higher-education institutions.
After considering such programs as Cdigix and Napster, ITS chose Ruckus as an initial solution. Having contracts with five major music labels, as well as a number of independent labels, Ruckus provides access to approximately 1.5 million music tracks. Students can also pay $15 per semester for access to movies from MGM Studios, Paramount and Warner Bros.
“Ruckus proved the best fit with our needs,” said Computing Manager for Arts and Humanities Daniel Schnaidt.
When the University signed on with Ruckus three years ago, PCs were more popular on campus than Macs.
“We were all hoping that Apple would have something like [Ruckus],” Ravishanker said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
Although ITS is aware of the fact that Macs have grown in popularity, it will continue to promote the use of Ruckus as long as its business model—allowing free service to the University—and compatibility with laws do not change. ITS will also continue requesting that students refrain from illegal file sharing on campus.
“The chance of a more severe penalty, if caught being engaged in illegal file sharing, is more serious than ever,” Ravishanker said.
According to statistics provided by Ruckus, the number of students with accounts has increased from 1,831 in January 2008, to 2,032 in February, out of the 2,815 total students enrolled in the University. However, there are questions as to how reliable these figures are.
“It is not, I think, as popular as statistics lead us to believe”, Ravishanker said.
“If [Ruckus] is free and better than [file-sharing], I’d use it”, one Mac-using sophomore said, adding afterwards that “it is legal, which almost matters.”
Students may access Ruckus at www.ruckus.com.