Colleges have been asserting for months -- in an effort to persuade Congress not to impose new requirements on them to fight illegal file sharing -- that they're spending big bucks to monitor, prevent and discipline online behavior that could run afoul of copyright law. But lawmakers ignored their pleas and added several new mandates to the Higher Education Act in August.
Now that it's been a few months, and the dust has settled, it seems fair to ask: What does it cost to comply with the provisions of the law that require colleges to police their students' peer-to-peer activity?
With budgets responding to the economic slowdown -- not to mention the uniquely open nature of campus networks -- the question is hardly academic. Beginning in July, the Campus Computing Project, the largest ongoing study of colleges' use of information technology, conducted a special survey focusing on peer-to-peer issues. The results, developed from the responses of senior IT officials at 321 two- and four-year private and public institutions, provide a snapshot of the costs, both in terms of dollars and manpower, of the P2P-related mandates that by that time were evidently going to be included in the final bill.
"We're talking lots of money here when you aggregate it out," said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the survey and a longtime critic of the entertainment industry's tactics against campus Internet providers. The resources that large research universities may now be required to expend for P2P-related mandates, he added, could amount to an "enforcement subsidy" of $350,000 to $500,000 a year.
As a result of heavy lobbying by the recording and film industries, the Higher Education Act now contains specific provisions aimed at curbing illegal file sharing at colleges. For example, colleges are "required to consider the use of technology-based deterrents" in developing plans to counter illegal peer-to-peer activity, such as traffic monitoring and bandwidth shaping -- technologies that even some proponents have described as limited in their scope and susceptible to an ongoing "arms race" of tactics by downloaders.
Colleges are also required to disclose to their students the legal implications of sharing copyrighted works and to provide legal alternatives to illegal file sharing networks. But in the report, released today, Green notes that even that requirement is not an absolute mandate. In a separate interview, he also said that campuses could sign up for free, ad-supported music services such as Ruckus to stay within the bounds of the law without expending any resources. (Three out of the 59 responding institutions who use such services said they pay fees, and all three signed up with Napster.)
"The good news out of this is to say that there's a way to be compliant with the mandate for an alternative music service," he said. "Campuses have found a way to do that ... and it seems to work."
For the 2008-9 academic year, the report says, 42.6 percent of public universities who responded to the survey and 32.3 percent of private colleges have a licensing agreement in place with a legal music downloading service. The numbers are even lower for other types of institutions, with 2 percent of community colleges, for example, reporting that they use such services.
Far more common, according to the report, is spending on software "intended to stem illegal or inappropriate P2P activity on campus networks," ranging from 83.3 percent of public four-year colleges to 34.6 percent of community colleges.
The costs of these measures is hardly negligible, as the report continues:
"The survey reveals that many private universities spend significant sums to license software intended to stem illegal/inappropriate P2P activity on campus networks (over $100,000 annually, on average, for campuses with software license agreements). While the software licensing fees paid by public universities are significantly less (over $20,000 annually), these payments still reflect a major allocation from campus IT budgets."
Average Financial Costs of P2P Compliance Efforts, by Academic Year
|Software License Fees, 2007-08||Software License Fees, 2008-09||Hardware Costs, 2007-08||Other Costs, 2007-08|
The report also focuses on the amount of time college employees spend on enforcement, with the bulk resting on IT personnel. At the same time, legal counsel at both private and public institutions spend more of their time -- about 44 hours each year -- on peer-to-peer issues than do legal advisers in other industries and sectors.
It illustrates that "this burden falls primarily on front line managers, 'back room' technical staff, and campus help desk personnel. And the burden is significant." For example, at public doctoral universities, "IT personnel spent, on average, 779 hours (approximately 19 person-weeks or roughly two-fifths of a person-year) on P2P issues."
Time Spent by Senior Officials on P2P Issues (Average Hours in Academic Year 2007-2008)
|President, Provost, VPs (but Not CIO)||Administrative & Secretarial Support|
Source: 2008 Campus Computing Project P2P Survey