Anti illegal-download campaign sent fewer notices to campus in '07-08

UC Davis received fewer Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement notices in fiscal 2008 than it did the year before. But it received more DMCA-related subpoenas than ever.

Owners of copyrighted material can use the 10-year-old law to punish people who download their material, typically songs or video, without permission. When copyright owners detect an unlicensed download, they notify whoever owns or runs the computer network involved (sometimes, UC Davis). At that point, the plaintiff doesn't know who downloaded the material--they just know the computer address where it occurred. When the campus receives these notices it sends them on to the registered user of the address. The notice offers to settle for a payment, and can be followed by a subpoena to learn the name of the user, and a lawsuit, if that person refuses to pay.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began sending notices as part of an anti-illegal downloading campaign it launched in February 2007. The result produced mixed numbers for UC Davis in the year ending June 30: more subpoenas, fewer notices.

In 2007-08, the campus received three batches of subpoenas covering 24 people--up from just two batches of subpoenas, covering eight people total, from 2003 until 2007. But the volume of DMCA notices for 2007-08 declined to 528, down from 712 a year earlier.

The decline in notices doesn't necessarily reflect less illegal file-sharing on campus. It does reflect the willingness of different "content industries"--music, video, TV, game makers--to spend money on monitoring properties or pursuing various methods to discourage illegal file-sharing, said Jan Carmikle, intellectual property officer and DMCA designated agent at UC Davis.

Just 26 percent of the notices in 2007-08 were traced to the re sidence halls, down from 61 percent the year before. Notices involving the on-campus campus wireless network accounted for 47 percent, up from 33 percent. The percentage of untraceable notifications, probably based on bad information, rose to 20 percent from 2 percent.

Most of the notices went to students, especially freshmen, and a majority involved audio files, a change from past years when most notices concerned films and TV programs. The music industry has been diligently pursuing notifications this year, Carmikle said, while in the past that has been truer of the film and TV industries.

Of the notices sent to UC Davis last year, 56 percent were for illegal audio downloads, 30 percent were for movies and TV programs, and 14 percent involved games and software.

Carmikle said the surprising jump in wireless-related notices might have happened because more students have wireless cards in their computers or use unsecured routers. The rise in untraceable notices might stem from how one company gathered data as it tracked illegal downloads. "After negative reactions [to its method] by higher education, they seem to have stopped using whatever that method was, as the number dropped and has stayed down," Carmikle said.

Punished or not, the law says "an infringement is an infringement, whether or not you knew that you were doing it or thought it was okay," Carmikle said.

"I've heard DMCA notifications referred to as the 'whack a mole' approach to stopping illegal file-sharing," she said. "But the bottom line is that it works on an individual and limited community basis, so it's not likely to end anytime soon."

Learn more about copyright laws at UC Davis here.