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Vanderbilt students offer music piracy solutions

Posted by on Friday, June 19, 2009 in Articles, Spring 2009.

At Vanderbilt University, college students—the group most targeted by the recording industry for prosecution for illegal downloading—are proposing solutions instead of adding to the problem.

Ten first-year students in the “Stealing in Music City” seminar were challenged to reinvent the music industry by creating a fair model of music distribution that discouraged music piracy. The solutions were different but shared common threads.

Freshmen (from left) Victoria Catanese, Allie Semler and Maria Crist present their solutions to the music piracy problem while instructors Holling Smith-Borne and Sara Manus evaluate the presentation.
Freshmen (from left) Victoria Catanese, Allie Semler and Maria Crist present their solutions to the music piracy problem while instructors Holling Smith-Borne and Sara Manus evaluate the presentation.

Country Music Hall of Fame member Jim Foglesong commended the students for their interest. “I highly applaud these efforts to educate our students about the legal and illegal aspects of downloading music without paying for it,” he says. “For the most part, they have no idea that this practice is actually stealing, not only from the artist, the songwriter and the record company, but it also has a devastating ripple effect on the many thousands of people who make their livings in the music business.”

In fact, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s 2009 report on digital music says that despite initiatives by the music industry, 95 percent of music downloads continue to be illegal.

Seminar draws on Music City expertise

Holling Smith-Borne, director of the Anne Potter Wilson Music Library, and Sara Manus, its education and outreach librarian, taught the class. In their efforts to educate the students on copyright and intellectual property law, the instructors drew from the wealth of expertise available just blocks away on Nashville’s famed Music Row. Panel experts included Tim DuBois, currently a management professor at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management and formerly senior partner at Universal South and president of Arista Records/Nashville; Randall Foster, licensing and business development manager at Naxos of America Inc.; and John Allen, vice president of Bug Music.

“We are very thankful we live in Music City,” Smith-Borne said. “This course would not be able to be taught in this manner if we did not live here.”

The government needs to be more involved

The student groups agreed that the government needs to regulate the usage of digital rights management (DRM), currently used by companies like Sony, Apple and Microsoft.

“Fewer DRM rules make purchasing (versus pirating) music much more appealing,” student Leslie Miller said.

Other suggestions for more government involvement included:
• Running a neutral, nonprofit peer-to-peer network.
• Holding peer-to-peer network owners responsible for registering and policing users.
• Overseeing mandatory copyright education at the elementary and middle school level.

“Every one of the groups acknowledged the fact that government was going to have to play some kind of role (in fighting piracy),” Dubois said. “For me, a jaded old person, it was refreshing to see college freshmen having faith that government could do something like this and be a help in it. I think it’s reflective of an attitude that I sense in a lot of young people.”

Develop subscription-based peer networks

The students agreed that peer-to-peer networks such as LimeWire, BitTorrent and Gnutella are extremely popular. Rather than fighting the networks, groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and record labels should join with them and offer subscription services at reasonable rates for consumers.

“Instead of looking for a solution, the RIAA has attacked consumers,” student Brian Wilke noted. “Not much progress has been made.”

Education crucial to stopping music piracy

The groups agreed that education was key to ending the music piracy problem. “It’s amazing to me how many students don’t understand the legalities of sharing intellectual property and copyrighted material,” Manus said.

“But none of the students have had an education in copyright law. They listen to their peers about what they can and cannot do.”

“I thought the students did a good job of coming up with some ideas for fighting piracy—some of which I had heard before but some of which were pretty original,” Dubois said.