UTEP tries to prevent illegal music swapping

El Paso Times
November 2, 2004
By Tammy Fonce-Olivas, El Paso Times

As a part-time employee for the largest computer lab at the University of Texas at El Paso, Ana Terrazas works to curtail the illegal trading of music files among students over campus computers.

"We do look for that on every occasion we get to walk around the lab. But on most occasions, especially during the peak hours, it's hard to see what people are doing because we are busy trying to get everybody their printouts," Terrazas said.

A student herself, Terrazas said she has never swapped song files using university equipment and she assumes that most of her peers also abide by the law.

However, music piracy among college students is such a huge problem nationwide that it has caught the attention of universities and colleges and even Congress through the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property.

Earlier this month, the Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities, which for the past two years has scrutinized the illegal trading of song files among college students, informed the House subcommittee that music piracy among college students is not spreading but it remains a problem.

"I know that this issue is of continuing concern to members of Congress, as it is to university presidents and to those whose livelihoods are associated with motion pictures and music," Graham B. Spanier, co-chair of the Committee on Higher Education and Entertainment Communities, told the House subcommittee.

In his testimony, Spanier said higher-education institutions must continue to combat music piracy because universities are among the principal creators of intellectual property and must teach and practice respect for it.

"We operate libraries and university presses where copyrights are created, understood and protected. We invent and operate some of the most sophisticated information technology systems in the world, and it is in our best interests to protect our network infrastructures from misuse and abuse," Spanier said.

Spanier said one reason the problem isn't as rampant as it was a couple of years ago is because universities have started teaming up with commercial music providers to give students an alternative to the illegal trading of song files over campus computer networks.

About 20 universities nationwide have such a program in place, and more are expected to follow suit. At UTEP, students are discouraged from misusing university computers and their networks by fliers posted at computer labs. Students who violate the university's policies risk losing their computer lab privileges.

Lt. Michael Hanna of the UTEP Police Department said not a single report of music piracy has been filed with the department. Despite the lack of reports, Hanna said, he can't say with 100 percent certainty that students aren't using university equipment to illegally trade music.

Terrazas said it is tough to catch students illegally swapping music because the computer labs get so busy. "A lot of people do come for school purposes and others come for personal reasons, but I don't know when they are downloading a CD or reading e-mail," Terrazas said.

The sophomore, who is studying fine arts, relies on the computer labs at UTEP. But even so, she said students should not have free reign over how they use campus computer networks.

"There should be limits on what students can do," Terrazas said. "The obvious one is preventing them from visiting porn sites; another is preventing them from getting information that they shouldn't be getting."