By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/1/2004 5:52:24 PM ET 2004-09-01T21:52:24

Sophomore Mike Reynolds helps set the pace to keep the University of Minnesota marching band in line. But online, he's out of sync with the school and the law — downloading music without paying for it.

“Who hasn't?” he says. “It's free and it's easy and you know it's wrong, yeah, but a lot of people do it — pretty much everyone does.”

One survey estimates as many as two-thirds of college-age kids do it — turning campus computer networks into breeding grounds of music piracy.

“All of the pieces come together there, you've got students who are interested in music, they have access to a very high-speed Internet connection and they've got time on their hands,” says Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.

But now some schools, like Minnesota, are joining forces with online music vendors, offering a legal way to download music at a discounted price.

“Education is our primary means of dealing with it — reaching out to students — letting them know about the law,” says Steve Cawley, the Chief Information Officer at the University of Minnesota.

It's not just the threat of legal action forcing schools to act. Some, like the University of Florida, have found their networks clogged by downloading.

“It was so bad, actually, that students were unable to consistently view their online classes,” says the University of Florida’s Rob Bird.

So Bird wrote a program called Icarus to uncover illegal downloading and restrict a student's Internet access if it’s detected.     

“With Icarus, what we do, it's like having an army of police officers, some of which know what direction you're going, some of them know what your speed is and between all of them, they collaborate to catch you,” says Bird.

The program, Bird says, has dramatically slowed illegal downloading at Florida.

And what helps the schools should help the music industry. Analysts say one-third of the $2 billion slump in album sales over the last three years, can be chalked up to piracy. Now, with a legal way to download for as little as $2 a month, Minnesota student Mike Reynolds will get in line.

“If they give you a cheap way to do it, why not?” says Reynolds.

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