The New Jailhouse Rock

Freshmen are given all sorts of unsolicited advice during orientation weeks: Respect your college’s honor code. Don’t drink to excess. Watch what you post to Facebook.

This year, lucky students at a number of colleges are getting one more piece of guidance, courtesy of the Recording Industry Association of America: Don’t download music—or you might end up rotting in jail.

That’s the ominous message that runs through Campus Downloading, a nearly eight-minute video produced for campus-orientation sessions by the RIAA. The video—which the trade group has offered as a free handout to colleges—opens with a cheery montage in which students avow their love of music. But it soon takes an intimidating turn.

“If you’re downloading or sharing music with your friends and not paying anything for it, you’d better think twice,” says a narrator before segueing into an interview with Derek “Mickey” Borchardt. Mr. Borchardt, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was confronted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and hit with criminal charges for his role in a private, online piracy ring (The Chronicle, April 6).

As Mr. Borchardt describes the pain of “for the rest of my life, having to explain why I’m a felon,” the video argues that illicit song swappers could face expulsion or jail time—penalties that have, in fact, seldom been levied against even the most-prolific campus pirates.

For students who aren’t swayed by the specter of prison, the RIAA tosses out a couple of other antipiracy arguments. A man billed as a “computer-repair expert” cites peer-to-peer sites as “the number one villain” responsible for the spread of viruses and spyware. And Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, says that the cost of responding to copyright-infringement notices contributes to many colleges’ rising tuition fees.

The video is the new cornerstone of the recording industry’s antipiracy education campaign, and it’s a pretty aggressive piece of work. But some organizations that have traditionally warred with the RIAA say the trade group is playing fast and loose with the facts about copyright law, according to CNET News.

The groups—including Consumer Electronics Association and Public Knowledge, a digital-rights advocacy group—have released a joint statement condemning the video for what they argue is a crucial misrepresentation of consumers’ rights. The film’s narrator flatly states, at one point, that “making copies [of a song or CD] for your friends, or giving it to them to copy, or e-mailing it to anyone is just as illegal as free downloading.”

That simply isn’t true, say critics, who argue that the video makes a point to ignore fair-use laws that protect people’s right to copy music for productive, scholarly, and home use. —Brock Read

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