Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law

First Page



Since the introduction of Napster in 1999, illegal peer-to-peer(P2P) file sharing has been a continuously growing problem for the music industry. According to the music industry, Internet users are allowed to copy and distribute millions of songs and other copyright-protected material illegally by using internet networks and P2P file-sharing software. To stop the illegal P2P file sharing, the music industry has taken action against the individuals who participate in illegal file sharing, as well as the parties that promote and facilitate the illegal activity, by filing numerous lawsuits. The music industry has successfully sought to hold facilitating parties, such as Napster and Grokster, secondarily liable for the direct infringing activity of the users of their services and/or products. Recognizing the potential threat to Internet service providers (ISPs) for providing Internet access to infringing users, "safe harbor" provisions were implemented through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to limit the liability of ISPs that merely provide transitory services.

Illegal P2P file sharing occurring on college networks has received a great deal of attention since early 2007, when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group representing the interests of the U.S. music industry, began to focus on the infringing activities of college students. In addition to its efforts to hold college students liable for their direct infringing activity, the RIAA has sought to have college ISPs assume responsibility for the illegal file sharing occurring on their networks. Regardless of the DMCA "safe harbor" provisions that protect ISPs from liability, the RIAA claims that college ISPs should be held to a higher level of responsibility than commercial ISPs because of the fundamental differences between the relationships that colleges have with their students and those that commercial ISPs have with their customers. While the RIAA claims that the "special relationship" that exists between colleges and students warrants more responsibility on the part of colleges, there are public policy arguments that can be made to refute the RIAA's assertion. Restricting P2P file-sharing capabilities on college campuses could prove to be costly for colleges, both financially and academically. Perhaps the solution to preventing illegal P2P file sharing on college campuses is not heightened monitoring by college ISPs, but rather a joint venture that would allow copyright holders to be compensated for their works, while at the same time allowing colleges to provide unrestricted academic freedom to their students.