Music streaming services discourage illegal downloads

Justin Atkinson

The rise in popularity of Spotify and iTunes radio, two popular online music streaming applications, has reduced UT students’ motivation to illegally download media, according to UT officials.

Tom Butler, associate director of the Legal Services for Students department, said he attributes the decline of copyright violation notices sent from UT to students over the past three years to the popularity of alternative music streaming services.

“ITunes and Spotify have taken the impetus out of illegally downloading,” Butler said. “If you can have access to music for a fairly small amount of money and you don’t get in trouble, then people will start to move that direction.”

As long as it is relatively easy, UT students generally lean toward the more lawful option when downloading their music, said undeclared freshman Briana Boston.

“I would imagine downloading Spotify is certainly easier than looking around individually for songs on the Internet,” Boston said. “It definitely removes the temptation to do illegal things.”

Students whom copyright-holding companies catch illegally downloading media usually receive an informational referral email from Cam Beasley, UT’s chief information security officer, that  warns against continuous copyright infractions. Repeat offenses can lead to a loss of Internet access on campus and a significant fine from the copyright holder. Beasley said these violations have stabilized in recent years.

“It isn’t unusual for the campus to receive about 50 reports of alleged violations each month,” Beasley said. “It was probably about three years ago where UT would get around 150 notices of copyright infringement a month.”

Butler, whose department provides free help to students wanting legal counsel, said punishment for breaking copyright law can vary among individual cases.

“Sometimes the student gets a cease and desist notice, and in that situation, we usually write a letter to the company on behalf of the student basically saying that they’re sorry and that they’ll never do it again. But sometimes they still demand money,” Butler said. “I have seen letters that threaten a lawsuit after one instance of copyright violation, but usually we can find a settlement that works for both parties.”

Even with the decline in recent years, issues with copyright violations haven’t entirely disappeared, Butler said.

“It’s not a big numerical problem anymore, but it hasn’t completely gone away,” Butler said. “It’s something we still try to warn about.”