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Government needs to stay out of battle against piracy

In the ongoing saga with Internet piracy, the federal government has issued new rules for all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid. However, the federal government should not regulate something that should be left up to individual universities.

The regulations published by the Office of the Federal Register last month require universities to develop plans to combat file sharing and educate students about copyright laws and legal ways to download content.

The rules will go into effect in July 2010 and are designed to help universities comply with the 2008 Higher Education Act.

“We felt all along that most campuses have been behaving responsibly,” said Steven L. Worona, director of policy and networking programs at Educause, which promotes technology in education, to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “This is a way of codifying that responsible behavior.”

Most colleges are already doing their best to combat piracy, and regulations will only mean more work. This would include writing out policies for the government, which will do little to stop illegal file sharing.

When it comes to offering legal alternatives, Worona said universities would only have to provide students with a list of Web sites where protected content can be legally purchased.

Telling students about iTunes is not going to stop them from looking for free music.

USF is already doing its part to combat piracy. The USF security Web site provides information on what is and isn’t legal, as well as a list of legal sites to download content. The University also sends warnings and cuts off Internet access to repeat offenders. The government would provide no new help on top of these measures.

USF signed an agreement with Red Lambda in 2007, which provides Internet activity-monitoring software, but some universities object to such programs.

The Common Solutions Group, which is made up of chief information officers from 26 major research universities, believes they do more harm than good. The programs don’t stop all illegal downloads and block some legal ones and may threaten privacy and academic freedom.

Federal guidelines will not make it any easier for universities to stop piracy. USF has a strong policy, yet piracy continues. In 2007, USF ranked in the top 25 schools for most music and movie piracy: No. 23 according to the Motion Picture Association of America and No. 11 according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

While universities should not give up on combating illegal downloading, the federal government should realize that regulation on its end won’t do anything that universities cannot. It’s only going to create more work.